The Utah Senate approved a bill that would remove the felony penalties for polygamy among consenting adults.
Such polygamy would be an infraction, an offense on par with a traffic ticket. Polygamists who commit frauds, abuses or engage in other conduct like human smuggling could still be convicted of felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
SB102, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has evoked a mix of opinions among polygamists, former polygamists and the children of polygamists. Even sister wives Catrina and Lydia Foster, both seen on the reality television show “Three Wives, One Husband” don’t agree.
Nine people who have lived in polygamy sent The Salt Lake Tribune videos explaining whether they support the bill. SB102 still needs to pass the Utah House and be signed by Gov. Gary Herbert before it becomes law. Click here to watch it, or read the transcript below:
Lydia Foster, Plural wife: “Hi, my name is Lydia. I chose the principle at 26 years old. I had lots of different options, different men — single young men — I chose the principle because I wanted the opportunity to share my life with as many people as I possibly could, with the opportunity of one life to impact as many souls as I could. I just want to support any law that lets me live my lifestyle. Thank you.”
Jedediah Darger, Child of polygamists: “Hello, my name is Jedediah, and I’m recording this because I support Senate Bill 102 to reduce polygamy to an infraction instead of a felony. As a child, I grew up in a polygamous household. My parents are still polygamists to this day. I have no religious affiliation with polygamy. I have no interest in becoming a polygamist. I do not believe the same way that they do in the least bit. That being said, I don’t believe that they are bad people, and I do believe that they should have the freedom to live the way that they want to live, as should everybody.”
Amanda Rae, Child of polygamists: “I don’t think that this new polygamy bill is going to change much here in Utah. I think that it’s great that Utah’s trying to address that we do have a polygamy problem, but I think we need to address the deeper problems in these polygamous cults, first. Like, the incest that’s going on, the child brides that are happening, the abuse. Like why is it legal for a 15-year-old girl to get engaged with her parents’ consent? There are so many laws that we need to focus on before we focus on this polygamy thing. It’s just, it’s crazy that I can name to you over a thousand people who are married to their half-sibling, or their uncle, or their first cousin and they’re having children with deformities, and all of this starts from them being a child being manipulated in to this situation. So I think that, if Utah will start to focus on the incest and the child marriages and the abuse that’s going on, then the polygamy part will be a lot easier to take care of.”
Charlotte Erickson, Plural wife: “I support Senate Bill 102 because consenting adults should be allowed to have the kind of marriage that they want. And the actual crime should be what is punished, not the marriages, but welfare fraud or whatever else are the problems going on.”
LeAnn Henderson, Raised in a polygamous community: “Hi, I’m LeAnn. I’m from the Turmoil Blog Within AUB, Turmoil within AUB. I grew up within a polygamous community. I’ve been trying to work with abuse within my own circle for a few years now, and it’s been really difficult. And I firmly believe that the fear of the law that’s gone back a long ways, the fear of persecution has been the deciding factor on whether victims will come forward or people will allow changes to happen. And, in my opinion, the most secretive polygamous societies having the most amount of abuse and problems is clear evidence that the fear of the law is an issue here, and I believe that religious freedom from within and without polygamy needs to happen, and this is a step in the right direction.”
Emily Tucker, Former member of The Kingston Group: “My name is Emily Tucker. I’m originally from the Kingston Group. We left when I was 14. I do not support Senator Henderson’s bill on polygamy. First, we need to define what exactly is a consenting adult. Is a consenting adult someone who has grown up in these groups and believes that this lifestyle is the only way for them and their future children to get to heaven? They say that they want to help victims, how is this going to help victims? They’ve already said they won’t prosecute polygamy itself, but they will prosecute crimes in polygamy. They don’t do that either, though. We need more resources for victims when they leave, we need more housing, Medicaid would be nice, we need daycare assistance. If we want to actually help victims, that is what we need to do. We need to prosecute the criminals, we need to hold them accountable and we need to help the victims who are leaving.”
Catrina Foster, Plural wife: “I am one of three happily-married plural wives. I chose to enter the principle at the age of 25, and we have been happily married. I love the fact that Senator Deidre Henderson is trying to push forward a bill that is lowering the criminalization of my lifestyle. However, I can’t fully give my support to Senate Bill 102 because I can’t give my full support to anything short of complete decriminalization. And also, I can’t support the enhancement penalties in any way.”
April Dawn, Former polygamous wife: “As a former polygamous wife here in Utah, I support bill SB102. Not that it’s perfect, but I think it’s a great step in the right direction. I think it is fundamentally unconstitutional for polygamy to be a felony when, ultimately, it is a lifestyle choice. When people are afraid because their grandfather or their father, was put in prison, they’re not going to call and report a domestic violence or a sexual abuse crime. And I don’t think the general public realizes that this is very real to these people. It was their fathers, it was their grandfathers that were put in prison, that were persecuted. And so there is like a cloud of fear that hovers over.”
Anne Wilde, Co-founder of Principle Voices: “My name is Anne Wilde, and I identify myself as an independent fundamentalist Mormon. Exactly 50 years ago, I became a plural wife and, throughout those years, I’ve become acquainted with literally thousands of other fundamentalist Mormons. Only a very small percentage of these people have not been upstanding, law-abiding citizens and consenting adults if they are in a plural family. I suggest we enforce the existing laws penalizing those who are guilty of associated crimes and separate them from a freely chosen religious lifestyle. For many reasons, I am in favor of Senator Henderson’s SB 102 bill reducing the living of plural marriage between consenting adults from a felony to an infraction. For one reason, it would bring state law in agreement with the current policy and practice of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which is refusing to prosecute consenting adult polygamists who are not guilty of any other crimes. It is certainly inconsistent and poor state government, to say the least, to have a law on the books that is ignored and not enforced.”