A bill that would effectively decriminalize polygamy and dispel fears of prosecution for plural marriage among consenting adults sailed through the Utah Senate on Tuesday.
Sen. Deidre Henderson’s bill would reclassify bigamy as an infraction, codifying the practice of the Utah attorney general’s office not to prosecute otherwise law-abiding polygamists. An infraction, like a traffic ticket, carries no threat of imprisonment.
The measure, SB102, cleared the Senate by a unanimous vote after scant debate and now heads to the House.
Current Utah law makes polygamy a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. It can be up to 15 years if the defendant is also convicted of fraud, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse or human smuggling or trafficking.
Henderson’s bill would leave intact these enhanced penalties and add a few more crimes under which polygamy would be a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, stressed that “the bad actors are still going to be penalized” under Henderson’s legislation.
Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has argued that decriminalizing bigamy will encourage victims of crime to come out of the shadows and report abuse without fear of prosecution.
“In these isolated, insular communities, that’s where a lot of the problems can really escalate,” Henderson told reporters Tuesday following the vote. “And that’s where the bad people can really — and have — weaponized the law in order to keep their victims silent and isolated in their control.”
Correction: 3:05 p.m. This story has been updated to clarify that Henderson did not say prosecutors would prefer legalization of bigamy.