Polygamous families protest Utah laws against bigamy

Kody Brown, center, from TV's reality show "Sister Wives," marches during a protest at the Utah Capitol Friday. Several hundred people in polygamist relationships say they want Utah lawmakers and law enforcement officials to know that they're not going away and should be allowed the freedom to practice their plural marriages. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 10, 2017 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The family on the TV reality show “Sister Wives” and several hundred other protesters in polygamous relationships and their supporters said Friday they won’t stop fighting for the legal right to plural marriage.

A group of pro-polygamy protesters rally at the Utah Capitol Friday. Several hundred people in polygamist relationships say they want Utah lawmakers and law enforcement officials to know that they’re not going away and should be allowed the freedom to practice their plural marriages. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 10, 2017 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Holding signs that read, “I love all my moms,” and “If we were gay, we’d be OK,” the group rallied in the rain on the steps of the Utah Capitol on Friday afternoon.

“I am not a criminal,” proclaimed Joe Darger, a Utah man who has three wives and helped organize the rally. “If you commit adultery, that’s not a felony. It’s only a crime when you have a family and you pretend to be married.”

The demonstration comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from Kody Brown and his four wives on the TLC show “Sister Wives” challenging Utah’s bigamy law.

The high court left Utah’s law in place, but state legislators are considering changes this year that would leave those convicted under it facing harsher penalties if they’re also convicted of other crimes such as domestic abuse.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab, said other changes in his proposal would help the law withstand any future court challenge.

Shortly before the rally began outside the Capitol, Noel and more than half a dozen women who left polygamous communities held a news conference to defend his bill, saying the plural relationships hurt women and children. They said the closed communities where polygamy is practiced can be rife with welfare fraud and child abuse, sexual abuse and forced labor.

Pro-polygamy protesters holds signs during a rally at the Utah Capitol Friday. Several hundred people in polygamist relationships say they want Utah lawmakers and law enforcement officials to know that they’re not going away and should be allowed the freedom to practice their plural marriages. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 10, 2017 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Outside the Capitol, polygamy supporters said the law criminalizing a relationship between consenting adults keeps anyone witnessing crimes like fraud or abuse from speaking out.

Prosecutors say they generally leave polygamists alone but need to keep the ban to pursue polygamists for other crimes. Only 10 people have been charged with violating the law between 2001 and 2011.

Utah’s current polygamy law bars married people from living with an extra spouse or claiming to have a second purported “spiritual spouse.” Noel’s bill would make it a crime only if someone lives with and claims they have another spouse.

It would also shield from prosecution anyone who leaves a polygamous relationship because they feared coercion, bodily harm, are underage or trying to protect a minor in a plural family.

The bill was approved by a House committee this week and awaits a vote by the full House of Representatives.

Court documents show there are about 30,000 polygamists in Utah. They believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven — a legacy of the early Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly forbids it.

Noel, who is Mormon, said Friday that his great-grandfather was jailed for being a polygamist and he’s irritated that today’s polygamists refer to themselves as Mormons.

“They’ve hijacked my religion and I actually resent that,” Noel said.

Brenda Nicholson, a former member of a sect led by Warren Jeffs on the Utah-Arizona border, said polygamy is not just a relationship involving consenting adults.

“It’s not a choice,” she said, “if you’re told this is what God expects of you.”

Jeffs now is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted of sexually assaulting girls he considered wives.

Written by MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press.

Kody Brown, center left, from TV’s reality show “Sister Wives,” and his wife Janelle Brown, left, and a group of pro-polygamy protesters rally at at the Utah Capitol Friday. Several hundred people in polygamist relationships say they want Utah lawmakers and law enforcement officials to know that they’re not going away and should be allowed the freedom to practice their plural marriages. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 10, 2017 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @michellelprice

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5 Comments

  • comments February 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Take away the plyg’s welfare benefits, get rid of the cult brainwashing, stop the incest and inbreeding, stop the child raping, and I think a lot of us would be more willing to accept your plyg lifestyle.

    • Chris February 12, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      Agreed. It’s not the polygamy, as such, that bothers me, but rather the various unsavory practices that have been accepted by these people along with the polygamy. I really don’t understand how Republican politicians, who love to champion individual responsibility and minimal government involvement in our lives, can hypocritically presume to tell us how we, the people, should handle marriage and other intimate familial relationships. After all, the persecution that Mormons supposedly suffered at the hands of gentiles in the early days of the religion was the direct result of their practice of polygamy. Now, they become the oppressors toward their not so distant brethren in the fundamentalist branch of Mormonism. Amazing that they fail to see this contradiction.

  • ladybugavenger February 12, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    Polygamy should not be government funded.

    Get off the welfare and pay for your own lifestyle!

    Polygamy is adultery.

  • utahdiablo February 12, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    We the Taxpayers of America and the Great State of Utah do not want to continue to pay for FLDS or Polygamists Welfare….12 Million ripped off from 2011 to 2016 and all they get is a $100 fine? Nope, this ain’t over by a long damn shot….get ready for real law and order

  • .... February 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    These are honest and hard working God fearing tax paying loving family people and they deserve your respect and support through these trying times…not really. LOL !

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