Family Or Felony? Conference Brings Polygamists, Prosecutors Together To Talk About Controversial Topic
Members of Utah’s polygamous communities want to see their lifestyle decriminalized. But it appears prosecutors are reluctant to take any such case to court.
During a conference Friday on polygamy and the law, representatives from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, defense attorneys and pro-polygamy activists met at Snowbird to talk about decriminalization and other issues.
Christine Brown, a plural wife and member of the Bluffdale-based Apostolic United Brethren, said she was not afraid to sit in the same room as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
“It doesn’t make me nervous at all because the attorney general, he specifically says as long as there are no child-bride marriages, as long as there’s no child abuse, he’s not going to prosecute,” she told Fox 13 News.
That’s the problem, pro-polygamy activists say. The Utah Attorney General’s Office has declined to prosecute a case of polygamy alone, citing resource issues of building prisons for tens of thousands of polygamists and creating an enormous burden on the welfare system to care for their wives and children.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve stated that when it’s truly consensual adults, that our limited resources, it wouldn’t make much sense to go after those kind of cases,” said Kirk Torgensen, the chief deputy Utah Attorney General.
Instead, prosecutors have followed Shurtleff’s advice in going after crimes within polygamy — including child-bride marriages, abuse, and fraud. They have only charged bigamy in conjunction with other crimes. A number of men have been convicted, including Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a pair of 5-to-life sentences for rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.Nine former fundamentalists shed light on the polygamous practice and lifestyle which has been shrouded in secrecy since the earliest days of Mormonism.
Many churches have denounced underage marriages, and Shurtleff told the conference again to urge their members and leaders to abandon the practice and turn in those who are doing it. After the raid on the FLDS Church’s Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas, the polygamous sect issued a statement saying it would no longer condone such marriages.