Insight: Proponents and opponents share experiences; state gives update on efforts to deal with lifestyle
Both positive and painful experiences of people who have lived in polygamous relationships were aired Wednesday night in a public forum, with several speakers suggesting abuses that occur within the lifestyle could be better addressed if it were decriminalized.
The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to take up that very issue in the future, said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. He said a Utah case currently at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is likely headed for the high court.
Any solution to dealing with polygamy, which is said to involve tens of thousands of people in Utah, must focus on children, one speaker said.
“Whatever the hell it is, there has got to be accountability for children,” said Dan Fischer, whose charitable foundation has helped teens who have fled the polygamous communities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.
Shurtleff and other members of the state’s Safety Net Committee organized the town hall meeting to discuss their efforts reaching out to polygamous communities. About 160 people attended the forum, held at the University of Utah.
It was a largely partisan crowd, made up mostly of people who have been vocal advocates or opponents of polygamy.
Members of the Centennial Park Action Committee sported oversize buttons with captions such as “Bigger Love” and “Real Big Love” – a commentary on the upcoming HBO series “Big Love” and their own commitment to the polygamous lifestyle.
Safety Net members reviewed their efforts to assist women and children who have left and to provide communities information about domestic violence, child abuse and available services.
One of the most poignant moments came as Carolyn Jessop shared her life story, from the “safety and comfort” she felt growing up in a polygamous family to the horror of being assigned to marry, at 18, a man in his 50s. At the time, she belonged to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
After 17 years in the relationship, Jessop fled and is now raising eight children on her own with little financial help from their father.
A woman who belongs to the Apostolic United Brethren, based in the Salt Lake Valley, said it hurt to hear Jessop’s story, especially given her own experience with polygamy.
“I feel loved,” she said. “I feel appreciated, and it’s what I want to do for my children.”
Some audience members pressed the state about tax dollars spent providing services to polygamous families, while others wanted to know what efforts, if any, are being made to eliminate educational neglect occurring in the FLDS community at the Utah/Arizona border.
It was the second town hall meeting organized by the Safety Net Committee.
Anne Wilde, a co-founder of the advocacy group Principle Voices, said the committee is bridging the fear and isolation that has kept polygamist groups apart from mainstream society in the past.
“Safety and equality can be assured when people put aside personal prejudices and work together toward common goals,” Wilde said.
One voice conspicuously missing at the forum: Tapestry Against Polygamy. The Salt Lake-based group has refused to participate on the Safety Net Committee because it includes proponents of polygamy.
Tapestry held its own news conference Wednesday afternoon to publicize the case of Kelli Cox of Springville, who refused to go along with her husband after he converted to fundamentalism and pushed her to accept plural marriage.
Instead, she separated from him a year ago and is poised to file for divorce.
“How can the attorney general, or anyone for that matter, expect me or any monogamous wife to have compassion for a lifestyle that encourages a man to abandon his legal wife if she will not accept polygamy?” Cox said.