The Utah Senate will consider a bill that would partially decriminalize polygamy after a state senate committee passed it unanimously, drawing strong views on both sides.
“The diocese is not taking a position on this bill, but I will say that we find the sponsors’ statements that the bill could help individuals come out of the shadows of polygamy to be very credible,” Jean Hill, director of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Office of Life, Justice, and Peace, told CNA Feb. 13.
However, Ora Barlow, who grew up in a polygamous community, opposed changes in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Salt Lake City Tribune reports.
“The law is there for a reason,” she said. “And it’s for people like me who feel trapped.”
Barlow said she felt free when her church’s leaders were imprisoned and prosecuted. That action made her realize that she had been treated like property all her life.
Nicole Van Tassell-Henderson, a former member of plural marriage, said lightening the legal penalties for polygamists will give “power and control” to community leaders, the Salt Lake City television affiliate Fox 13 reports.
Utah law presently punishes polygamy as a felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Senate Bill 102 would treat polygamy among consenting adults as an infraction penalized less severely than many traffic offenses. Those cited for polygamy could be punished by fines of up to $750 and community service if the bill becomes law.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, is the predominant religion in Utah. Its leaders supported the practice of polygamy in the 19th century, but ordered an end to plural marriages in the late 1800s, under heavy pressure from the federal government.
Some breakaway groups still continue the practice of plural marriage. An estimated 30,000 people live in polygamous communities in the state. CNA