SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah's largest polygamous groups is opposing a bill that makes bigamy an infraction.
In a statement to FOX 13, the Davis County Cooperative Society (also known as the Kingston group) said it appreciates Sen. Deidre Henderson's intentions with Senate Bill 102.
"It is our belief that her efforts to reduce the crime of bigamy to an infraction have been made in good faith to bring greater support and access to services for individuals who would otherwise be isolated or afraid to seek help," the DCCS said.
However, the group said it objected to the idea that bigamy -- in concert with other abuses -- would be a second-degree felony under the bill.
"However positive the original intent of the bill, it is lost to the fact that these enhancements amount to nothing more than a blatant violation of the equal protections clauses in the Utah and United States Constitutions. This further cements in the minds of plural families that they are second-class citizens and they will not receive the the same treatment as their neighbors because of who they are, not because of what they do," the DCCS said.
SB102 would reduce bigamy among consenting adults to an infraction, putting it on par with a traffic ticket. There would be no jail time, if it were to be prosecuted. However, Sen. Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, would make bigamy in concert with other abuses -- like domestic violence, public assistance fraud or child bride marriages -- a second-degree felony.
The DCCS argued those enhancements hurt the community the bill is trying to help and worried it could be weaponized in custody cases to make arguments of abuse just for teaching a child about polygamy, or making it more difficult for someone in a plural family to seek welfare, even if they qualify.
"We have no doubt of Senator Henderson’s sincerity for the issues facing plural families and her good intentions in lowering the barrier to provide services for them. However, this bill does the opposite," the group said in its statement.
The DCCS statement is a noticeable break over the bill. The Principal Voices Coalition, a group that advocates for people in polygamous communities and is made up of some members of the different groups, indicated its support for the bill.
"The criminalization and isolation of a religious minority have harmed families. Truly, Utah has no appetite for prosecuting and imprisoning plural families for lifestyle choices as felonies. SB0102 corrects this problem. While all crimes should be prosecuted, we look for the day when whom we love is no longer a matter for law enforcement," its statement, shared with FOX 13 on Wednesday, said.
Anti-polygamy groups have vowed to fight the bill as it advances on Utah's Capitol Hill. However, it has widespread support. On Thursday, Sen. Henderson's bill was updated to include 19 co-sponsors, more than enough votes to pass the Utah State Senate. Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, an influental lawmaker on Capitol Hill, has agreed to sponsor it in the House.
There are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people in and around Utah who are members of fundamentalist Mormon groups, according to an unofficial census by Principal Voices. The largest organized group is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., with an estimated 10,000 members. The majority are "independents," those who do not belong to any particular church or organized group, but believe in the principle of plural marriage.
The Davis County Cooperative Society is affiliated with the Latter Day Church of Christ, founded by Charles Elden Kingston in 1935, according to a guide on polygamous communities prepared by the Utah Attorney General's Office. It is currently led by Paul Elden Kingston and has about 2,000 members. The group has faced legal scrutiny in the past from state and federal authorities over abuses and marriage practices. One of its members, Washakie Renewable Energy CEO Jacob Kingston, recently pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud charges along with his brother, Isaiah; wife, Sally; and mother, Rachel; in what authorities allege was a billion dollar scheme. (Jacob Kingston is currently testifying in federal court against a co-defendant, Lev Dermen.)