Two former leaders of a breakaway Mormon community in Canada have been found guilty of practicing polygamy.
One of the men was married to 25 women and had reportedly had as many as 145 children. The other had five wives but it was not known how many children he had fathered.
They lived in a settlement called Bountiful in the western province of British Columbia. The tiny community has an estimated population of only 1,000 people and is named after a location mentioned in the Book of Mormon. This is the holy text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, first published by founder Joseph Smith in 1830.
Neither man denied the charges. In fact, one of them “spoke openly about his practice of polygamy” and “confirmed that all of his marriages were celestial marriages in accordance with [his religious sect’s] rules and practices” Justice Donegan said at the hearing.
Both men belonged to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a splinter group from the Mormon Church. Polygamy was disavowed by Mormons in the 19th Century and the mainstream Church now denies any connection with this fringe group.
The convictions came at the end of a costly, decades-long legal battle launched by the local government back in the 1990s. Each man could face up to five years in prison for the crime, although the exact sentence will be decided at a later hearing.
After the hearing, one of the men told reporters:
“I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that … 27 years and tens of millions of dollars later, all we’ve proved is something we’ve never denied. I’ve never denied my faith. This is what we expected.”
Prior to the verdict, the man’s lawyer announced plans to challenge Canada’s polygamy laws if he was found guilty.