SALT LAKE CITY – the penalty for polygamy could be reduced or even become an infraction in Utah.
A state Senate committee unanimously passed a bill that would lower the penalty for polygamy and bigamy from a felony to an infraction following hours of emotional testimony from both sides of the issue.
Senator Deidre Henderson (R-Spanish Fork) sponsored the bill to help fight abuse in some polygamous communities.
She told the committee on Monday that criminalizing polygamy in Utah has been detrimental to fighting crime.
“These government actions merely isolated polygamist families drove them underground, instilled fear, and led to a culture of secrecy in their communities,” Henderson said.
Alina Darger, the Executive Director of the charity Cherish Families, and a plural wife herself agreed that it would help people come out of the shadows.
She, like Henderson, also feels it is unfair to those who follow every other law.
“I ask this question often. If anybody can name to me one crime that a polygamist has committed that is not already on the books and can’t be addressed that way? So, it’s an easy solution to me to bring some people out of the shadows,” Darger said.
But others who have escaped polygamy or who, like Tamra Anderson, have helped others escape abusive sects, are not so sure it would help.
“If we do decriminalize, do we embolden them to take more advantage of children? And I’ve never ever heard them be afraid of the law. They’re afraid of their own people,” Anderson said.
Forced polygamous relationships would still be a third-degree felony under the law. Those who commit bigamy while doing another criminal act, such as sex trafficking, could be charged with a second-degree felony.
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