Polygamists may no longer face jail time under new Utah bill

In this Feb. 10, 2017, file photo, Kody Brown, left, from TV's reality show "Sister Wives," marches during a protest at the state Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state, and 85 years after the practice was declared a felony they still number in the thousands. It's even been featured in the long-running reality TV show, "Sister Wives." Now, a state lawmaker says it's time to remove the threat of jail time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press, SALT LAKE CITY (AP) 02/10 — Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state. Eighty-five years after plural marriage was declared a felony, they still number in the thousands and have even been featured in the long-running reality TV show, “Sister Wives.”

Now, a state lawmaker says it’s time to remove the threat of jail time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists.

“The law is a failure. It hasn’t stopped polygamy at all and it’s actually enabled abuse to occur and remain unchecked,” said Sen. Deidre Henderson, a Republican. Her proposal to make bigamy an infraction rather than a felony has gathered significant support. It was unanimously approved by a legislative panel Monday, despite resistance from former members of polygamous groups who said it could embolden abusers.

Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson looks on during a hearing Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state, and 85 years after the practice was declared a felony they still number in the thousands. Now, a state lawmaker says it’s time to remove the threat of jail time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists. “The law is a failure. It hasn’t stopped polygamy at all and it’s actually enabled abuse to occur and remain unchecked,” said Henderson. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

 

The estimated 30,000 people living in Utah’s polygamous communities believe plural marriage brings exaltation in heaven — a legacy of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mainstream faith abandoned the practice in 1890 under pressure from the U.S. government and now strictly forbids it.

Unlike other states, Utah outlaws living with a second “spiritual spouse” even if the man is legally married to just one woman.

Henderson argues that law, and the legacy of raids as recently as the 1950s, has created a culture of fear that empowers notorious abusers like the polygamous leader Warren Jeffs. His followers wear distinctive, historic-looking dresses, and he is now serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered plural wives.

On the other end of the spectrum are modern, consenting adult polygamists like Kody Brown of TV’s “Sister Wives.” The show chronicling the lives of Brown and his four wives premiered on TLC in 2010.

The Utah attorney general has publicly declined to prosecute polygamists like him for years, but the bigamy law remains on the books. The “Sister Wives” family left the state shortly after going public with their TV show, saying they were afraid of being charged by local prosecutors.

In this Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, photo, Utah Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher poses for a portrait at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Polygamists may not face jail time under new Utah bill. Utah could ease its law against polygamy under a new proposal at the state Legislature. “At this point, I think this is better than what we’re doing now,” said Thatcher. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

 

They later lost an attempt to overturn the polygamy law in court.

The new proposal would significantly lower the potential penalties for consenting adult polygamists but keep harsher penalties for other crimes sometimes linked to polygamy, including the new addition of coerced marriage. Some pro-polygamy advocates have pushed back, arguing that those enhancements create an unfair association with their communities.

Others, though, say that easing restrictions on polygamous marriages won’t do much to help victims and could even make things worse. Melissa Ellis grew up in the polygamous Kingston group and said she worries that leaders could consider it a victory if the state lightened penalties.

In this Feb. 10, 2017, file photo, pro-polygamy protesters hold signs during a rally at the state Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state, and 85 years after the practice was declared a felony they still number in the thousands. It’s even been featured in the long-running reality TV show, “Sister Wives.” Now, a state lawmaker says it’s time to remove the threat of jail time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

 

“Those men are going to have more power and more control over their victims than they did before,” she said.

A representative for the group did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Ellis also pointed to a recent law that allowed people leaving polygamous groups to access money from the state’s crime-victims fund to help get on their feet. “We need more laws in place that are going to help the victims,” she said.

More than 100 years after Utah’s predominant faith abandoned the practice, the state continues to struggle with the best way to deal with polygamy, lawmakers acknowledged.

“At this point, I think this is better than what were doing now,” said Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher.

https://apnews.com/4fd0541f597493462a913d2609fcbcf5

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Illegal Activities, Legislation, Public Policy, Strange and Unusual

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eighteen − nine =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.