The life of Witness Four


National Post - Friday January 28th, 2011

Barbara Kay, National Post · Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

At a recent government hearing called to test Canada's rarely enforced anti-polygamy laws, "Witness number Four," a 24-year-old Bountiful, B.C. Mormon from Hildale, Utah -- married off to a much older man, chosen for her at the age of 17 -- spoke glowingly in favour of polygamy, painting a picture of sweet harmony with several other "sister wives."

According to Witness Four, she is in a "celestial marriage" ordained by God. She spoke of having a dream at the age of 16 in which she saw the face of her future husband. A marriage was arranged for her. She met her husband 30 minutes before the marriage ceremony. But she was content, she said, as he resembled her epiphany. Six months later, her husband took a new bride, a 15-year-old girl, and that also seemed fine to Four, because "Age is not really a big issue to me," and because "it was a revelation from God" that the 15-year-old should be married to their mutual husband.

Of course, this is all purest nonsense, and no more to be taken seriously than a chimpanzee who has been trained to paint a picture by numbers. Number Four gives new definition to the locution "Stepford Wife." The term, from the eponymous satirical 1972 thriller by Ira Levin, refers to a kind of living female robot, programmed to serve the desires of her husband with irrepressible good cheer and calm acceptance of her role as handmaiden and (in the case of the Bountiful girls) baby-making machine.

And programmed Four most certainly is. She has lived a hermetically sealed life in the bosom of a community that has brainwashed her. She wouldn't know what critical thinking is, let alone how to employ it. She may as well be five years old in terms of mind development.

My Wednesday National Post column dealt with a woman who grew up in a South Asian, honour-obsessed patriarchal culture. She was thoroughly convinced, until she came to Canada, that girls were "unworthy creatures" and that anything done to them by their parents -- including, in her case, beatings that broke ribs and left her unconscious on more than one occasion -- was not only permissible but totally normal, as parents owned their children's bodies.

She has repeatedly emphasized in her public speeches that she did not resent her father for his beatings or consider them unfair, since she never knew that life could be any different.

When cultural or religious environments are totalitarian, children can be indoctrinated to believe anything at all. It seems to me that these young women are as good as children mentally, and are in dire need of the state's protection.

It is quite possible that the Charter of Rights will eventually enable this nefarious practice of systemic Stepfordization to continue. If so, this is a good moment to preemptively consider an initiative that would apply to all Canadian couples entering any marriage in which (a) the bride is younger than 21, or (b) the marriage is polygamous: no marriage licence unless prospective couples have completed a pre-marital course, in which the history of marriage would be chronicled, discussions held on the nature of gender equality in marriage, the penalties for intimate partner violence (for both men and women) and the heavy responsibilities marriage entails.

If polygamy is to become legal, then these young women should at least have a fighting chance at learning to think about what they are doing in real terms, not fantasized epiphanies from God. In polygamous communities, God is just another name for Big Daddy.

bkay@videotron.ca