Fundamental Mormons in
Nobody disputes the fact
that the fathers are often three or four times older than the mothers. And
nobody disputes that many are the "plural wives" -- or concubines
-- of men much older than them.
After all, when it comes
time to register the births, midwife Jane
says the fathers in this religious community near Creston in south-central
They are members of the
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and they believe
polygamy is the "new and everlasting covenant."
It is what separates
them from mainstream Mormons. Fundamentalists claim they are the true Mormons
and it is the mainstream Mormon church that has broken away from Joseph
Smith's teachings -- in particular his directive on polygamy.
What Marlene Palmer, a
plural wife and the public defender of other plural wives, disputes is
whether the women and girls have a choice about becoming "celestial
wives" in their teens.
"Women and girls do
get to choose who they marry," she says emphatically. "Most are 17,
18 and some are as old as 20 when they get married. There have been some who
are 16 and occasionally some who are 15 ... . But they never marry without
their parents' permission."
Palmer, 45, is Winston
a powerful businessman and wealthy landowner, is the former bishop of
Palmer has six children
and works full-time for her brother's company, J.R.
and Sons Co.
"I was 17 when I
married the first time and 32 the second time and absolutely I had a
choice," she says. "It's fabulous. I really love the man."
However, she refuses to
say who her second husband is and how many sister wives she has.
The B.C. government is
launching a wide-ranging probe into every aspect of the reclusive,
57-year-old community. Among other things, the investigation is determining
whether what is happening in
There is a law in
MOTHERS AS YOUNG AS 14
Geoff Plant has promised a police investigation to find out whether any of
those laws are being broken. Plant also said the government will look into
allegations that racism and sexism are being taught at the government-supported
school, as well as allegations that plural wives are claiming to be single
mothers so they can collect welfare and child support.
confirms that the youngest mother she has seen
was only 14. But there have been others who are 15 and 16 when their babies
are born. Most women, she says, have had their first child by 18.
All of her young mothers
are healthy and so are all of the babies that she's delivered so far.
"For the most part,
younger women have babies easier," says Jane
"But the younger women have other problems." She declines to
is guarded in what she'll say.
Her caution and reluctance to criticize is not surprising. She wants to
first and only legal wife.
Six of their eight children still live in
"I left because I
was finished living that way. I just want to live ..." she paused.
"More time will have to pass before I can say anything more than
However, she does say of
the women who only have one husband: "They are really lucky."
"My concerns are
not mainly for the girls, but for the community in general. I'd like there to
be more education and more opportunities. The main change will come when
there is more education."
WIVES ARE 'ASSIGNED'
Debbie Palmer, 49,
shares none of her younger sister's ambiguity about which way of life is
She left the community
in 1988 and has been campaigning against what she calls the sexual
exploitation and assault of
At 15, Palmer became the
third "wife" to Winston
father -- Ray
, a man 42 years older than
her at the time.
died, Debbie was re-assigned first to
54-year-old Sam Ralston. By the time she left, she had had three different
"husbands" and eight children. She was never legally married.
Palmer took all of her
children with her when she left, even though the polygamous group teaches
that mothers have no rights to the children.
And while her sister
won't say how many wives Winston
Palmer says the 48-year-old has 26 wives and half of them were
"assigned" to him before they finished high school and before they
The talk of abuse,
neglect, brainwashing and lack of education makes Marlene Palmer fighting mad
-- particularly at Debbie Palmer, who was once a sister-wife.
But it's difficult to
tell when Marlene is mad. She has taken to heart the church motto to
"keep sweet." Her anger is masked by smiles and laughter.
Palmer disputes the
allegations, especially the suggestions of abuse.
"I am part of
Creston's emergency response team," says Marlene. "I work with the
police. I would never, ever keep abuse quiet. If I knew a child or a woman
was being abused, I would go to the police."
But even she concedes
that it is sometimes difficult to know what happens behind closed doors of
people's homes whether it's in a polygamist colony or in the broader
'WE ARE FREE AGENTS'
Palmer emphatically agrees with
Marlene (who, according to one genealogy chart of
also says if there were abuse,
she'd know about it through her close connections in the community and
through her work as a teacher's aide at Mormon Hills elementary school -- the
set up after he lost
control of the Bountiful elementary-secondary school to a rival leader in the
She waves a set of keys
as she talks.
"We are free
. "I have a bank
card. I have my own car and my own home. Absolutely no one is pushing
is 57 and the mother of 14
children, all of whom live in and around
Marlene Palmer -- like
her brother -- welcomes the wide-ranging probe into allegations of sexual
exploitation, sexual abuse and claims of racist and sexist teachings at
"I think it's
wonderful. If they go through the homes and if they find something, I
wholeheartedly support getting it corrected," she said.
Marlene is so convinced
that all is well in
However, after a bit of
working out, Marlene has a change of heart about being tour guide.
offers to do it instead. And we were almost out
of the office when Winston
The women had a brief
meeting in a back office. When they emerged, Marlene said
didn't think it would be a good idea if any of them went with us to
also refused to take us on a tour and he refused repeated requests for an
doesn't want to exacerbate tensions at
But the tensions in the
community may have less to do with the provincial investigation and more to
do with an internal power struggle over control of the estimated 13,000
SPLIT IN THE FAITH
-- the once powerful bishop and
a loyal follower of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints president and prophet
-- has become a
pariah to nearly half the people in
has ex-communicated virtually everyone who
might challenge him -- including
Hundreds have been ex-communicated in
The split has been
"I totally stay
away from them,"
Palmer says of the
' faction. "I don't know what they believe. I
don't want to know. I know what I believe."
All of her children live
"I occasionally say
hi to her. But that is about as far as it goes. ... My daughter doesn't want
me talking to her children. She's afraid I'll tell them something and they'll
get into trouble."
doesn't believe the rift in the
community can ever be healed.