As one of three wives in a polygamous marriage, Alina Darger, could have testified anonymously in a landmark case that is weighing the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy law.
Instead, Ms. Darger waived that right, becoming the first witness in the proceeding to provide a favourable personal account of a practice that the governments of Canada and British Columbia maintain is inevitably harmful to women, children and society.
"I felt this is a historic case that may never come up again - and an opportunity to present a voice that might not otherwise be heard," Ms. Darger said on Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court. "And so I decided to drop the anonymity."
Ms. Darger, who described herself as an independent fundamentalist Mormon, testified as a witness for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, a polygamous sect. The mainstream Mormon church officially renounced polygamy in 1890. Last year, just before the constitutional reference case, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman granted FLDS witnesses the right to submit affidavits and testify anonymously after being told they would not testify without that protection.
In a marked contrast to former FLDS members who have told the court about overcrowded, abusive homes filled with conflict and power struggles, Ms. Darger described her childhood and marriage in glowing terms.
Her father had two wives, and Ms. Darger herself is the first of three wives. She has seven children of her own, and she and her two "sister-wives" have a total of 24 children aged from six months to 20 years old.
Ms. Darger said she chose to practise polygamy because it is central to her faith and she wanted the same closeness and security as an adult that she had experienced as a child.
"I loved that experience and thought it was really amazing," Ms. Darger said. "I always felt I had somebody close to care for me."
Ms. Darger said she does not believe in arranged marriages and, under questioning by a B.C. government lawyer, said while she is aware that some fundamentalist Mormons have married underage girls, she does not endorse or approve of that practice.
"I disagree with that; it's not in my belief system, and there are laws to take care of that - and they should," Ms. Darger said.
Former FLDS members who testified for the province have spoken at length in court about the hardships they experienced while in polygamous relationships, including physical and emotional abuse and, for women, being forced to marry much older men.
In the reference case, the attorneys-general of B.C. and Canada are arguing that Canada's law prohibiting polygamy should be upheld. A court-appointed amicus curiae is taking the position that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.
Successive governments in B.C. have wrestled with the question of whether to prosecute polygamists in the FLDS community of Bountiful. The issue was referred to court for a constitutional reference after polygamy charges against community leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler were stayed in 2009.
Mr. Blackmore is not participating in the reference case. James Oler will not be appearing as a witness but is participating in the proceeding as an "interested person".
Editor's note: The original version of this online story incorrectly stated that James Oler was not participating in any part of the reference case on polygamy. This online version has been corrected.