SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that effectively “re-criminalizes” polygamy in Utah had a lengthy and emotional hearing, but its future in the Legislature is in doubt.
In a packed hearing that lasted late into the night Wednesday, members of Utah’s polygamous communities, anti-polygamy activists and even people involved in a reality TV cable show spoke out about the bill, Fox 13 Now’s Ben Winslow reported.
The bill, entitled Bigamy Offense Amendments and designated House Bill 99, is sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. It would make it a crime in Utah for someone to live with multiple people and “purport” to be married. Polygamists object to that saying it gives prosecutors a weapon to go after them, even if they are adults in consenting relationships.
“They are hiding behind polygamy to get away with incest, underage marriages, child abuse, spousal abuse,” said LuAnn Cooper, an ex-member of the Kingston polygamous family, who testified in support of the bill.
Joe Darger, a polygamist with three wives, and Lillian Foster, a plural wife, spoke against the bill, as related in Fox 13 Now’s report.
The bill was introduced in the Utah State Legislature as the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether to take the “Sister Wives” case, challenging the state’s historic ban on polygamy. Reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives sued the state, arguing Utah’s anti-bigamy laws violate their rights to religious freedom and privacy. A federal judge struck down part of Utah’s ban, allowing polygamists to cohabitate and purport to be married. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned it, ruling the Brown family did not really face a threat of prosecution by the state.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office cited Rep. Noel’s bill in urging the Supreme Court to not hear the case. Last month, the court declined to hear the “Sister Wives” case, leaving the lower court ruling in place which effectively “re-criminalized” plural marriage.
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Full text of the bill: 2017 HB 99 – Bigamy Offense Amendments – bill as introduced
Written by BEN WINSLOW, Fox 13 Now.
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