Provincial court upholds ban on polygamy

Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:07pm EST
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By Nicole Mordant

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian provincial court on Wednesday upheld the country's ban on polygamy, saying the harm that plural marriage causes to women and children outweighed any infringement of religious freedoms.

The landmark case was brought by the British Columbia government to test the constitutionality of a 120-year-old ban on polygamy in Canada.

The Pacific Coast province wanted a clear ruling before taking legal action against members of a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy at their Bountiful settlement, near British Columbia's border with the U.S. state of Idaho.

The group's leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two child brides.

In explaining the ruling, British Columbia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman said plural marriage was harmful to society, especially women and children in polygamous communities.

The practice leads to a higher risk of physical and psychological harm for women, higher infant mortality rates and more fragile health for girls who are married off to older men and fall pregnant at a young age, Justice Bauman wrote in a 335-page decision.

If individuals "sincerely believe" that polygamy is a "religious obligation," the impact of the ban on their religious freedom "is outweighed by its countervailing salutary effects," Bauman said.