An estimated 30,000 people who live in Utah’s polygamous communities could soon be free from criminal prosecution after members of the state Senate’s Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved a bill Monday to decriminalize polygamy between consenting adults.
The bill now moves to the full Senate chamber for a vote.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 102, Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, argued to colleagues that the state’s law classifying polygamy as a felony punishable by up to five years in prison is unenforceable absent other crimes.
“Vigorous enforcement of the law during the mid-20th century did not deter the practice of plural marriage,” Henderson told NPR.
Instead of ending the practice, the law criminalizing polygamy has only created “a full-blown human rights crisis” in which victims of abuse and fraud are afraid to come forward, and otherwise law-abiding citizens in the community are labeled as criminals, she told Senate colleagues, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“The people that I have spoken with long to feel part of society,” Henderson said. “They are tired of being treated like second-class citizens. They feel like Utah has legalized prejudice against them. They want to be honest people, but feel like they have to lie or teach their children to lie about their families in order to stay safe.”
Senate Bill 102 would reduce polygamy among consenting adults from a felony to an infraction comparable to a traffic ticket.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially disavowed the principle of plural marriages in 1890, but acknowledged that the practice continued and was condoned for decades afterward. The church now excommunicates polygamists.
In 2014, Joseph Smith, the controversial figure who founded the religion, was revealed to have had as many as 40 wives, including married women and a 14-year-old girl.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair