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Polygamists may no longer face jail time in Utah

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.  

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. Pictured above is Kody Brown of TV’s Sister Wives at a 2017 protest that aimed to overturn the law

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.

Republican state lawmaker Senator Deidre Henderson has been pushing to remove the threat of prison time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists. Her proposal to make bigamy an infraction rather than a felony has gathered significant support

Republican state lawmaker Senator Deidre Henderson has been pushing to remove the threat of prison time for otherwise law-abiding polygamists. Her proposal to make bigamy an infraction rather than a felony has gathered significant support

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. The stars of the show are pictured: Robyn Brown, Meri Brown, Kody Brown, Christine Brown and Janelle Brown

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. The stars of the show are pictured: Robyn Brown, Meri Brown, Kody Brown, Christine Brown and Janelle Brown

The bill was unanimously approved by a legislative panel Monday, despite resistance from former members of polygamous groups who say it could embolden abusers.   

Polygamous leader Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered plural wives. Supporters of the new bill argue the current law has created a culture of fear that empowers notorious abusers

Polygamous leader Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life prison sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered plural wives. Supporters of the new bill argue the current law has created a culture of fear that empowers notorious 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. 

Jeffs, who is the leader of the The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, made followers wear distinctive, historic-looking dresses. They are pictured above posing in front of his portrait

Jeffs, who is the leader of the The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, made followers wear distinctive, historic-looking dresses. They are pictured above posing in front of his portrait

POLYGAMY AND THE MORMON CHURCH IN UTAH 

Polygamists have lived in Utah since before it became a state in 1896.

Plural marriage was declared a felony in the state back in 1935. 

There is still an estimated 30,000 polygamists living in Utah now. 

Those still 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 LDS church is the most predominant religion in Utah, after many members migrated there in the 1840s.

The Mormon church promoted the practice of ‘plural marriage’ from the early 1840s until 1890, when Church President Wilford Woodruff made a statement against it. In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages.

But several ‘fundamentalist’ groups which sought to continue the practice split from the LDS Church, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Warren 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. 

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

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.

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

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

‘This is better than what we are doing now, and I have not heard a single person bring forward a better solution,’ said Republican Senator Daniel Thatcher.

 ‘Sometimes doing nothing is a better solution. 

‘In this case, I think (Henderson has) brought us something that is better than doing nothing.’ 

The bill will now move to the full Senate.  

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

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 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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