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Polygamist family disappointed with B.C. court ruling

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A man and woman who practise polygamy in Utah says they are disappointed in a court ruling in B.C. that upheld Canada's ban on polygamy.

On Wednesday, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman ruled that Canada's ban of polygamy does not violate the country's Charter of Rights.

He said that while the ban does violate the freedom-of-religion rights of those practising polygamy, polygamy brings such harm to women and children that they outweigh those rights.

Alina Darger says she doesn't like the message the court sent with the ruling that there's no such thing as good polygamy.

"Me, living my life right now and right here, proves a different story and a different side of that," she told CTV's Canada AM Thursday.

Alina Darger acted as an intervenor in the case and testified about her experience as a plural wife. She described the free choice she says she made in entering plural marriage, how it is a spiritual practice for her and how much she loves her family.

Darger, who grew up in a polygamous family herself and chose to enter a polygamous marriage, says the ruling prevents other women from making the decision she did.

"It's restrictive and takes away my right as an adult woman for personal choice," she said.

Darger is an independent Mormon fundamentalist and has been married to Joe Darger for 21 years. Twin sisters Valerie and Vicki Darger are also married to Joe and together, they have 24 children.

While women don't take multiple husbands in her religion, Darger says she supports others' right to choose that lifestyle. But she says the court's decision makes such choices illegal.

"It targets polyamorous groups and other groups that might have a different arrangement than I do," she said.

In his 335-page decision, Bauman said that polygamous families face higher rates of domestic violence, and that the practice leads to large families and poverty.

He said: "Women in polygamous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse."

Darger says that's not been her experience.

"I think that's based on information from a limited group of people," she said suggesting that others who have had a good experience with polygamy are reluctant to come forward and talk about it because of both the law and the stigma from the rest of society.

Joe Darger says the biggest misconception that people have of polygamy is that it's inherently abusive. He says his family and the families of many others are proof that's not true.

"For every family like ours that's public, there are thousands more like us. That myth, that stereotype is not true," he said.

Joe Darger says the problem with maintaining a ban on polygamy is that it forces those who practise it to hide it. Then, when there are abuses occurring in these marriages, they're not reported because of fear of exposing their lifestyle.

He says Wednesday's decision will do nothing to stop that.

"It was an easy decision to make judicially, but practically, it accomplishes nothing and it will continue to push a segment of society underground," he said.

Darger says pushing polygamous groups underground can lead to abuse such as the marriage of child brides, a practice he calls "repulsive."

"But that's the sensational side we're focused on and it's easy to get caught up with that and miss what causes that. And what causes that is that when you push a society underground, those types of abuses occur and they're not able to be reported and dealt with as child abuse – which is what it is," he said.

Alina Darger agrees.

"To me, it's pedophilia disguised as religion," she said.

Even with Wednesday's ruling, the case is likely far from over. The case is expected to be appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal and ultimately, to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lawyers arguing in favour of plural marriage have 30 days to appeal Bauman's decision.