Salt Lake City Reuters reports that the Utah state Senate voted unanimously on February 18th to decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults, reducing penalties for a practice with deep religious roots in the predominantly Mormon state. The bill, which would treat the offense of plural marriage as a simple infraction on par with a parking ticket, now moves to the Utah House of Representatives, where it is likely to face greater resistance.
Under current law, polygamy typically involving a man who cohabits with and purports to marry more than one wife is classified as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If the Senate bill becomes law, punishments for plural marriage would be limited to fines of up to $750 and community service.
The chief sponsor of the measure, Senator Deirdre Henderson, said the intent of the bill is not to legalize polygamy but to lower the penalties so those from polygamous communities who are victims of crimes can come forward without fear of being prosecuted themselves. Opponents of decriminalization say the current law should not be changed because polygamy is inherently dangerous and harmful to women and children, particularly young girls, some of whom have been forced into marriages with older men.
Polygamy is a remnant of the early teachings of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members fled persecution over the practice to settle the Utah territory in 1847. The church disavowed polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah statehood, and today members of the faith found to be practicing plural marriage are excommunicated. Fundamentalist Mormons, said to number more than 30,000 across the western United States, believe they are adhering to the truest form of Mormon doctrine, which promises polygamists glorification in heaven. (Reuters Reporter Jennifer Dobner and editing by Steve Gorman, Matthew Lewis and Dan Grebler at Reuters.com/article/us-utah-polygamy/utah-senate-votes-to-decriminalize-polygamy-among-consenting-adults-idUSKBN20C2HF)
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