Just after the Sister Wives‘ Brown family’s lawsuit seeking to legitimize plural marriage was turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court, lawmakers in their home state of Utah are seeking to make polygamy a felony offense.
The bill classifies polygamy as a class-3 felony, but upgrades it to a class-2 felony if it’s charged alongside other charges for offenses like child marriage, human trafficking, fraud or abuse. It has already passed through Utah’s House judiciary committee on a 7-3 vote, and is headed to the Utah House floor for debate. The committee hearing was tense and filled with citizens seeking to make statements about the bill, Salt Lake City’s Fox affiliate reports.
“If I call them mistresses, I’m OK,” Joe Darger, who has three wives, told the committee during his testimony. “But if I tell you I’m married and they are my wives, that is what we’re saying is a felony. That makes no sense.”
The bill’s future is in jeopardy, however, because of lawmakers who wonder if it’s necessary. Polygamy is already banned under Utah’s state constitution, but as the Sister Wives case gained media attention, the Utah attorney general’s office insisted over and over that it does not prosecute polygamy alone, and polygamists are only targeted by prosecutors when they have committed other crimes related to polygamy, like fraud, abuse or child marriage. During the judiciary committee’s meeting, Utah Federal Solicitor Parker Douglas again told lawmakers that even if the law were to pass, it is not the state’s policy to prosecute polygamy as a stand-alone crime.
Still, the bill has support from community members who once belonged to polygamist groups, including Julie Atkinson, who testified in favor of the legislation.
“Passing this law will help people go after people in these groups because there are so many abuses and so many times they hide behind freedom of religion and nothing happens,” she said.
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