Utah polygamists ask attorney general not to appeal ruling

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jan 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-09 20:10:16-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of Utah's polygamous communities are hoping attorney general Sean Reyes does not appeal a federal judge's ruling that essentially decriminalized plural marriage.

Representatives of a coalition made up of polygamous churches are hoping to meet with Reyes in the coming weeks in an effort to persuade him to change his mind.

"I'm hoping that Sean Reyes will give us time that we can explain a little bit more about our culture," said Anne Wilde, a fundamentalist Mormon and member of the Principle Voices Coalition, a pro-polygamy group. "The side that he hasn't heard before."

On Thursday, the Safety Net Committee met to discuss the impact of U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups' ruling that struck down part of Utah's bigamy laws. The Safety Net is a coalition of social service providers, government agencies, polygamists and anti-polygamy activists with a common goal of combating abuse and neglect in the closed societies.

"I think the impact is still being realized," said Joe Darger, a polygamist who lives in Salt Lake County with three wives.

Judge Waddoups' ruling struck down the part of Utah's bigamy law dealing with cohabitation -- something used to prosecute polygamists in the past. The ruling came a week before another federal judge overturned Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

"I don't think it's any accident that they're coming together," Darger told FOX 13. "I think it's a shift in culture, realizing it's no longer time to tell people how to live their lives in the bedrooms. The state should be out of that."

Reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives sued the state of Utah, challenging the ban on polygamy. Judge Waddoups' ruling did not strike the bigamy laws from the books -- it kept the law in place that forbids multiple marriage licenses for purposes of fraud.

In an interview with FOX 13 shortly before taking office, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he would appeal. Alina Darger said she hoped he would reconsider.

"It makes no sense," she said of the anti-polygamy law. "To bring a law where you have consenting adults who cannot have a relationship they choose."

Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Hildale-based Fundamentalist LDS Church, is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child sex assault, related to underage marriages. Some of his followers were also convicted of charges linked to child-bride marriages.

Pro-polygamy advocates insist that if plural marriage were decriminalized, people in abusive situations within the communities would feel free to report abuse without fear of having their family situation prosecuted. Many of Utah's polygamous churches have gone on record stating they do not condone underage marriages.

"All of the leaders or their representatives have said they are no longer going to perform or encourage underage marriages," Wilde told FOX 13. "We have no way of guaranteeing that is the case, but at least I think it was a good effort."

The Safety Net Committee is taking no formal position on the decriminalization of polygamy, but many hoped it would let people feel free to speak up against abuses. Safety Net Coordinator Jenni Frey said her group continued to see an influx of people seeking resources from job searches to family counseling.

"There is lots of work to do," she said. "And it's not just specific to down south (Hildale). All over the state of Utah, there's people with needs and they need to have the courage to be able to come and get the help they need."

Judge Waddoups has scheduled a hearing Jan. 17 to discuss outstanding issues with the Brown's lawsuit. After he enters a final order, the state of Utah has 30 days to file an appeal with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.