The Case Against Polygamy

AuthorCraig Jones
The Case Against Polygamy
The Convergence
Sometime at the end of the evidentiary phase of the hearing, the amicus’s
co-counsel Dickson and I were discussing the schedule of the exchange
or our written submissions. It had occurred to me that, given a ll that we
knew about the positions being advanced by the other, it didn’t make
much sense to have too much back-and-forth, with the amicus putting in
his argument on breach, the Attorneys General responding to that and
adding our argument on section 1 justication, and the amicus then re-
sponding to that (and heavens knew where all the intervenors would t
in). Dickson was reluctant to proceed that way. “We need something to
shoot at,” he was saying with respect to our section 1 arg ument, “we need
to know what your argument’s going to be.”
I had to laugh Dickson was giving me too much credit for clever-
ness. I responded that our argument was going to be ver y simple: “It’s
Now, Dickson had a point about the sequence, and before long we
agreed with the amicus’s proposed schedule for exchange of arguments,
even though it put us up against a tight timeframe. But I wasn’t exag-
gerating much when I summarized our expected submissions. Once you
were past the amicus’s “silver bullet” a rgument (that is, his assertion that
the very purpose of the law was discriminatory), every aspect of the case
would come down to what the Court found with respect to the ha rms of
pol yg a my.
e main theme of our closing submissions was the “convergence” in
the evidence of harm. It was a term I had borrowed from Henrich, who
had used it to describe how the results of the various studies he reviewed
“converged” to support the theories of polygamy’s harms. In our case as a
whole, the convergence was in how, with respect to each of the negative
A Cruel Arit hmetic: Inside the Case Against Polygamy
correlates of polygamy, the stories of individuals and the anecdotal obser-
vations of academics also t in with the expectations of the experts.
is convergence was nowhere more striking than in the evidence of
the sexual targeting of girls.
e impact of polygamy on girls had been the centrepiece of our evi-
dentiary eorts. It was a harm that was, along with the lost boys phenom-
enon, most directly tied with the cruel arithmetic, and the victims were
so clearly innocent that no one could argue for the idea that their rights
should be sacriced on the altar of their elders’ religious freedom or per-
sonal liberty. So our closing submissions, which began with the phrase “a
polygamous society consumes its young,” focused heavily on the ev idence
of the early sexualization of girls.
We began our submissions on this most obvious point by observing
that Mormon polygamy has, from the beginnin g, been noted for the youth
of its brides. Joseph Smith was said to have married severa l teenagers. e
historian Van Wagoner had written of nineteenth-century Mormon po-
Although defenders of Mormon polygamy st ress that the principle wa s
intended for religious rather tha n sexual pu rposes, plura l wives tended
to be much younger than thei r husbands. A 1987 study completed by
the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Br igham Young Uni-
versity found that 60 percent of the 2 24 plural wive s in their sample
were under the age of twent y. e man was usua lly in his early twenties
when he married his  rst wife, who was in her late teens. When he took
a second wife he was genera lly in his thirties and hi s new wife bet ween
seventeen and nineteen yea rs of age. Men who married a t hird wife
were commonly in their late th irties. e average age of third w ives was
nineteen as were fourt h wives whose husbands by t hen were between
thirt y-six and fort y-ve.1
When the FLDS community at Short Creek was raided in 1953, the
action was justied in par t on the basis its residents were engaged in a
“conspiracy to commit statutory rape.” e governor of Arizona described
Short Creek as:
dedicated to the wicked t heory that ever y maturing g irl child should
be forced into the bondage of a multiple wifehood with men of all age s
for the sole purpose of producing more ch ildren to be reared to become
more chattels of this lawless enterprise.2
Now, of course, a politician saying something doesn’t make it true.
In the reference, though, the evidence of child brides at Bountiful and
throughout the FLDS communities in North America was simply over-
The Case Against Polygamy
whelming. Recall how one of Campbell’s interview subjects reported that
at least twenty-three of her twenty-ve sisters were married before reach-
ing the age of eighteen. Anonymous Witness 2 married at sixteen, as
did her sister wife (also her biological sister). Her own daughter married
(monogamously) at fteen. Witness 4, as I discussed at some length ear-
lier, married at seventeen and her sister wife married at fteen. And of
course, there were the girls of Februar y, as I have called them, whose
stories had been revealed by cross-referencing the YFZ ra id with birth
records. And by the time of our closing submissions, there had already
been a number of prosecutions in Texas that involved evidence of numer-
ous young brides.3
Beall had estimated that 30 percent of his female patients from po-
lygamous marriages (from inside and outside the FLDS) were married at
sixteen or less.
Greathead and Horsman compiled for the closing submissions a pa-
rade of underage marriages from their video adavits: Ruth Lane, for-
mer wife of Winston Blackmore, reported him as having married two
fteen year olds among his other, slightly older, teen brides over the years:
“ ey can stretch it however they want,” she had said. “ey were fteen.”
Susie Barlow had been assigned into marriage w ith her fty-one-year-old
cousin when she was sixteen; Lorna Black more had a daughter assigned to
bishop Oler when she was sixteen and a daughter assigned to Oler’s half-
brother when she was seventeen. Jessop was married at eighteen to a man
who was thirt y-two years older than she was. Jessop a lso testied that her
sister wife Tammy was eighteen when she married the eighty-eight-year-
old “Uncle Roy,” who would go on to marry a seventeen year old when he
was “around ninety-six.” Winston Blackmore was said to have required
Teressa Wall to marr y at seventeen. Teressa described her thirteen-year-
old sister being forced to marry their cousin, and another sister at eighteen
marrying Rulon Jes when he was well into his eighties. Rena Mackert
was married at seventeen. Mar y Mackert spoke of the former prophet
Leroy Johnson taking a twelve-year-old wife. Truman Oler described the
typical age of marriage for girls in Bountif ul as sixteen. Again and again,
the testimony was the same.4
Some empirical corroboration of this overwhelming anecdotal evi-
dence was also found in the birth registration records from Bountiful,
which indicate that about a third of mothers identied by the BC Vital
Statistics Agency ocial K lette as coming from Bountiful rst gave birt h
as teens, a rate that is some seven times the provincial average.
Teen pregnancy, of course, is only one indicator of the real problem:
the sexual targeting of girls by much older men in a polygynous society.
e usefulness of teen birth statistics at Bountiful was that, as even the

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