Utah Legislature Moves Closer to Decriminalizing Polygamy

By Michael W. Chapman | February 14, 2020 | 4:00pm EST
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) -- Legislation to decriminalize polygamy in Utah moved closer to becoming law on Feb. 10 when a Senate committee unanimously passed it and sent it along to the full Senate for debate. 

Currently, polygamy is a felony in Utah punishable by up to five years in prison. Under the new proposal, SB 102, the current law would be amended to reclassify polygamy as an "infraction." The punishment for an infraction is similar to a hefty parking ticket; there is no jail time.

"Sister Wives" cast members, a real polygamous family: one husband, four wives, 18 children. Initially based in Utah, they now live in Arizona.  (Getty Images)
"Sister Wives" cast members, a real polygamous family: one husband, four wives, 18 children. Initially based in Utah, they now live in Arizona. (Getty Images)

The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Deidre Henderson (R-Spanish Fork).  "Don’t prosecute otherwise law-abiding polygamists, but instead focus on actual crimes like fraud and abuse," Henderson wrote in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

"We want to encourage more reporting and easier investigation of abuse, and the way to do that, after consulting with prosecutors and polygamists alike, is to reduce the criminal penalty so the high barrier to community integration is lowered," she said. 


Angela Kelly, director of the Sound Choices Coalition, which fights against polygamy and its abuse of women, said SB 102 would only make the situation worse. “To bring it down to an infraction, you’re essentially saying this is an okay lifestyle,” she testified before the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “And it might be for 10 people, but we’re talking about society as a whole.”

Kelly became interested in the polygamy issue because of her upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the Mormon church. 

In a statement about the bill, the Sound Choices Coalition said, "This bill was co-sponsored by Salt Lake polygamists via Senator Henderson and the Libertas Institute. ... Their failure to understand the research on the abuses built into polygamy, such as the growing institutional grooming of minors into its incestuous sex trafficking trade, has lead to a bill that, if passed, will create more victims."

Sound Choices Coalition Director Angela Kelly.  (SCC)
Sound Choices Coalition Director Angela Kelly. (SCC)

"Proponents of this bill attempt to piggyback on the success of the gay rights movement by promoting the narrative this initiative is about consenting adults doing as they wish," stated the organization. 

"We are shocked at the lack of understanding of this issue by our elected lawmakers," said the Coalition.  "This has nothing to do about consenting adults or gay rights. It is all about weaponizing God and grooming children through every type of human rights abuse."

"The real narrative polygamists and their supporters are desperately trying to control, especially in today’s #metoo climate, is that girls are commodities to be traded and bred often to a family member using a cringe worthy phrase 'incest is wincest' to normalize deviant behavior," the group said.  "Sexualization of girls into child brides to propagate the relentless grip of polygamy is the real problem."

HERRIMAN, UTAH - FEBRUARY, 2008: Sunday brunch in a polygamist family consisting of one husband (Joe), three wives (from left to right: Allie, Valerie and Vicky), and 21 children. Sunday is one of the few days of the week when the entire family finds time to share a meal. This plural family lives in the Salt Lake Valley among monogamist families. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)
HERRIMAN, UTAH - FEBRUARY, 2008: Sunday brunch in a polygamist family consisting of one husband (Joe), three wives (from left to right: Allie, Valerie and Vicky), and 21 children. Sunday is one of the few days of the week when the entire family finds time to share a meal. This plural family lives in the Salt Lake Valley among monogamist families. (Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)

Polygamy was practiced by the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, and by leaders of the church in the 19th century. Church leaders revealed in 2014 that Smith had up to 40 wives, some of whom were already married and one who was only 14 years old, reported the New York Times.  Smith was killed by a mob at the age of 38 on June 27, 1844. 

The LDS church teaches that some of its early members "received and obeyed this commandment" on "plural marriages," which apparently was "given through God's prophets."

"In 1890, under pressure by the American government, the church issued a manifesto formally ending polygamy," reported The New York Times. "The church’s essay on this phase admits that some members and even leaders did not abandon the practice for years."


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