Polygamous family lobbies the legislature for decriminalization

Posted at 8:13 PM, Feb 20, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- Joe Darger and his wife, Vicki, walked through the Capitol shaking hands with lawmakers like any other citizen lobbyist.

What exactly they're asking their lawmakers to do is a little more unique: decriminalize polygamy.

"The way we are persecuting a particular religious group of people is wrong," Joe Darger said. "It's morally wrong, it's ethically wrong, and we need to look at it. It hasn't worked for 150 years and we need to change it."

Darger, a polygamist with three wives, Vicki, Valerie and Alina, is hoping to get lawmakers to start considering the idea of decriminalization. He and Vicki came to the Utah State Capitol carrying copies of a book they wrote about their family, entitled "Love Times Three," and handed them to lawmakers who stopped to chat with them.

"Right now, it is illegal for me to purport to be married," Darger told FOX 13. "Simply by me claiming her as my wife, I'm considered a third-degree felon."

The Darger's political action comes as a lawsuit is winding its way through U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City that could do the same thing. Reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, who star in the cable show "Sister Wives," are challenging Utah's ban on polygamy. A federal judge could rule on the case any day now.

"We're not looking for legal recognition. We're not looking for multiple marriage licenses," Darger said. "That kind of concern isn't out there. We're just saying let's decriminalize a group of people who aren't criminals."

Vicki Darger said she hopes lawmakers will at least consider her family's perspective.

"We don't really expect people to morally agree with us, but we do hope they will see our stand and what we're committed to and help us to fight for our rights and stand up for the rights that we should have, as every citizen has," she said.

With the "Sister Wives" case pending, anti-polygamy activists are also speaking up. Earlier that same day, the newly formed "Sound Choices Coalition" was handing out fliers to lawmakers urging them to uphold Utah's anti-bigamy laws.

The Dargers insist that if polygamy were to be decriminalized, people would feel more free to report abuses that have been associated with their lifestyle.

"There's so much secrecy that goes on simply because it's against the law," Vicki Darger said.

Lawmakers FOX 13 approached about the idea of decriminalizing polygamy quickly refused to comment. At a recent availability for reporters, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said there is just no appetite amongst the body to even consider the idea.

Darger, who is a Republican delegate in Herriman, said he wasn't giving up.

"We're under no illusions," he said. "This is a long battle. It's not if, but when. But part of this is a political process as well, and the legislature can change that -- and should change it."