Utah is simply not a welcoming state for polygamists anymore.
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Polygamy has been technically illegal in the state since it drafted its constitution in 1896. But the Utah State Attorney General’s Office has long held the view that it would not prosecute residents for simply practicing polygamy — they would only be charged if they were polygamists in conjunction with other abusive behaviors, like child weddings, abuse, trafficking and fraud.
That is, until Sister Wives became a hit, and the Brown family decided to fight to legitimize their consensual, polygamist way of life. They sued the state of Utah, seeking to decriminalize plural marriage. The case made it to the Supreme Court, who refused to hear it and sided with a lower court in which the Brown family lost. Polygamy remained a crime in Utah.
Then, Utah lawmakers retaliated by introducing legislation that would make bigamy — the act of marrying after you are already married — much easier for the state to prosecute by widening the criteria by which offenders can by charged. The bill passed the Utah Senate late last week, and is on the desk of Utah Governor Gary Herbert, awaiting his signature. Unless Herbert vetoes the bill, it will become law.
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The Brown family protested the bill as it made its way through the Utah legislature, asking lawmakers to focus on crimes often related to polygamy, like human trafficking and fraud, and avoid prosecuting consenting families for simply violating the bigamy law.
“Once again, prosecute the real crime. Prosecute abuse, prosecute fraud, prosecute all these things that are there. Leave consenting adults alone,” Kody Brown told a Fox News affiliate in Salt Lake City.
The Brown family moved to Nevada after their show became popular, hoping to avoid being persecuted for their plural marriage. On Friday, they told the Salt Lake Tribune that they fear Utah is an unsafe place for those who practice polygamy and other families should leave the state.
“My concern is all this is going to do is drive the good polygamous people who don’t have those abuses more into hiding and it’s going to make the people who do have those abuses just be able to do them even more,” Meri Brown told the paper. “I hope that good, loving consenting adult polygamous families look at this and think about what they want to do. Do they want to stay there and live under this kind of oppression and go back to living underground like they did 40, 50, 60 years ago or do they want to rethink their residence?”
Governor Herbert has not indicated whether he plans to sign the new bill into law.
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