SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature would effectively make polygamy an infraction.
Senate Bill 102, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, reduces the severity of the crime of bigamy among consenting adults to an infraction, which has no threat of jail time. However, bigamy among non-consenting adults as well as polygamy in concert with abuses remains a second-degree felony.
"We’ve got a whole bunch of people in our state that have been marginalized, that have been essentially discriminated against and because of fear of government persecution, very real fear because of historical persecution, a lot of them have gone underground and the secrecy creates a lot of problems we hear about," Sen. Henderson told FOX 13 on Tuesday.
The bill is a dramatic change from how the Utah State Legislature has treated polygamy in recent years. It remains prohibited by constitution (Utah was required to abandon it as a condition of statehood). The legislature "re-criminalized" the practice in the aftermath of federal court rulings that effectively decriminalized polygamy.
Reality TV star Kody Brown and his wives sued the state of Utah, challenging its constitutional ban on plural marriage. A federal judge sided with the Browns, ruling that Utah's ban violated their religious freedom and privacy rights. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, declaring the Browns did not really face a threat of prosecution.
Anti-polygamy groups have been rallying against the bill since the concept was first discussed on Capitol Hill last year. Sen. Henderson said she believed her bill could open up some of Utah's historically closed polygamous societies.
"Cohabitation, which is basically our anti-polygamy law, became a felony in 1935 and for 20 years after that there was widespread government prosecution of polygamists. It didn’t stop it," she said. "Making it a felony has not stopped it, what it’s done is driven people underground and created a situation we have to address."