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Polygamists make court appearance

world Updated: Jan 22, 2009 01:18 IST

Two men charged with polygamy this month will use Canada's legalization of same-sex marriage in their defense, a lawyer for one of the men said on Wednesday. Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, made their first court appearance on the charges on Wednesday in a courtroom in Creston, British Columbia.

The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and was adjourned until Feb. 18.

Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, argued in a telephone interview that if gay people can marry then being married to more than one person should be as well. Canada's Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.

If gay people are allowed to marry, then "what is the reason that public policy says one person can't marry more than one person?" said Suffredine, a former provincial lawmaker. He said the case is also about religious persecution. Authorities arrested both Blackmore and Oler, who lead rival polygamous factions in Bountiful, a town in southeastern British Columbia. Blackmore is charged with marrying 20 women and Oler is accused of marrying two women.

British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal said the charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He has said the case will be the first test of Canada's polygamy laws. Blackmore, who has about 400 followers in Bountiful, once ran the Canadian arm of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was ejected in 2003 by that group's leader, Warren Jeffs. Oler is the bishop of Bountiful's FLDS community loyal to Jeffs.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. Mormons renounced polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood.