ST. GEORGE, Utah — The attorneys general of Utah and Arizona have told a two-state town hall meeting that they would not target polygamists solely for practicing plural marriage. Their remarks drew an angry reaction from opponents of polygamy, who said the practice is criminal and the law should be enforced.
Still, Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff and Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard said they would pursue criminal charges against those involved in forced or underage marriages, sexual abuse and welfare and tax fraud.
The meeting last week drew both polygamous families and those who oppose the practice.
Polygamists say they have a 1st Amendment right to practice plural marriage because it’s part of their religion. They also say they’ve been unfairly targeted by prosecutors because they’re different.
Shurtleff rejected the claim.
“It’s never been about religion, but we certainly won’t sit back and let people commit crimes,” he said.
The meeting was about 50 miles from the towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., which are dominated by the several-thousand-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–one of the largest polygamous sects.
Polygamy was once a tenet of the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but was abandoned in 1890. The Mormon church now forces out those who advocate polygamy. It’s still believed tens of thousands in the West continue to practice it.