New Utah bigamy bill, Polygamists still go to jail.
Polygamists may no longer face jail time in Utah after a new bill was passed by the state’s senate committee to decriminalize it for consenting adults.
A Republican state lawmaker has been pushing to remove the threat of prison time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists.
Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state and have even been featured on the long-running reality TV show Sister Wives.
There are still some 30,000 polygamists living in Utah 85 years after plural marriage was declared a felony in the state.
Many believe plural marriage brings exaltation in heaven – a legacy of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The mainstream Mormon faith abandoned the practice in 1890 under pressure from the U.S. government and now strictly forbids it.
Senator Deidre Henderson believes that the large number of polygamists in the state means that the law has failed.
‘The law is a failure. It hasn’t stopped polygamy at all and it’s actually enabled abuse to occur and remain unchecked,’ she said.
Her proposal to make bigamy an infraction rather than a felony has gathered significant support.
Infractions in Utah carry no jail time and punishments can include fines of up to $750 and community service. The current polygamy law in Utah carries a felony punishment of up to five years in prison.
The bill was unanimously approved by a legislative panel Monday, despite resistance from former members of polygamous groups who say it could embolden abusers.
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.
Jeffs, who is the leader of the The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is currently serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered plural wives.
His followers wear distinctive, historic-looking dresses.
On the other end of the spectrum are modern, consenting adult polygamists like Kody Brown of TV’s Sister Wives – a show chronicling the lives of Brown and his four wives that premiered on TLC in 2010.
The Utah attorney general has publicly declined to prosecute polygamists like Brown for years, but the bigamy law remains on the books.
The Sister Wives family actually fled Utah shortly after going public with their TV show, saying they were afraid of being charged by local prosecutors.
They later lost an attempt to overturn the polygamy law in court.