Utah polygamy protesters converged upon the state capitol to protest a bill which would once again make their lifestyle choice a felony. The plural marriage supporters want the lawmakers to uphold a 2013 court ruling that decriminalized polygamy in 2013.
The polygamist supporters in Utah carried signs which read, “I love all my moms,” “Cohabitation should not be a felony,” and “Families not felons” during the protest.
Approximately 30,000 Utah residents are believed to live in polygamous communities.
— Ben Winslow (@BenWinslow) March 8, 2016
Enoch Foster was one of the approximate 150 protesters at the polygamy hearing in Utah. The Moab area resident told reporters that he had two wives and making plural marriage a felony violates the constitutional rights of consenting adults.
“I cannot say that’s my wife. That is a violation of my freedom of speech. It’s a violation of my freedom of association. It’s a violation of my freedom of religion,” Foster said.
Some of the polygamy supporters noted that the government already recognized unconventional marriage when gay couples were allowed to wed in every state. It is not illegal in any state for a man to live with or have sexual relations with more than one woman.
According to polygamists, the proposed law change in Utah discriminates specifically against the religion, making it unconstitutional.
“If they’re mistresses I couldn’t be prosecuted, but because I claim them as wives and we’re a family I can be prosecuted and I’m a felon,” Foster stated during an interview with Fox 13.
Foster and fellow Fundamentalists Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints member, Joe Darger, believe that by enforcing the plural marriage law as a felony charge will force polygamists into the shadows and make those who could become victims of sexed crimes of underage marriage into hiding.
Darger noted that stereotyping all polygamists as sex offenders is a biased and wholly unfair assumption. Long before same-sex marriage became the law of the land, openly gay men were not allowed to be scout leaders, teachers, and youth coaches because many members of the public felt they were perverts or pedophiles because of their sexual preference.
“The idea that just because I am a polygamist man, that I am [also] a perpetrator, is a myth. It’s a stereotype,” Darger added during an interview with KUTV. “That’s the myth, is that all polygamist families are just from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”
— Benjamin Wood (@BjaminWood) March 7, 2016
Former polygamists were also on hand at the Utah protest to share their stories and voice support for making it a felony to have more than one wife. About 12 former plural wives showed up to the event. One of the counter-protesters, Kristyn Decker, claims that polygamy harms underage girls. Decker founded the Sound Choices Coalition and is urging lawmakers to take more stringent steps to protect children and women of polygamy.
The Utah polygamy bill passed the state house of representatives last week and will soon be put before the state senate for consideration.
Republican State Representative Mike Noel feels the proposed law should thwart a lawsuit filed by TLC reality show star and polygamist Kody Brown. Representative Noel pointed out that the Utah Constitution bans polygamy, and added that the state attorney general has vowed to protect the statute. He further claimed the existing ban helps to prosecute sex abuse, child molestation, spousal abuse, and fraud cases.
Brown and his four wives won a massive victory for polygamy in 2013. A state judge ruled in Brown’s favor and removed key elements of the Utah polygamy law, deeming the text unconstitutional. The lawsuit is now pending in federal appeals court.
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[Photo by AP Photo/Rick Bowmer]