ST. GEORGE — Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
And plural wives from Utah and Arizona felt scorned when they were left off the guest list for a summit on issues related to polygamy.
So almost 100 women, most of them plural wives or supporters of the practice of polygamy, on Friday packed the room at the Best Western Abbey Inn in St. George where the summit was being held, causing organizers to move the gathering to the southern Utah town’s civic center a mile away and to extend the public comment session.
The wives claim that government authorities and the news media portray them as victims in a male-dominated culture, while never bothering to get their views.
“I’m here because all that we hear in the media are people who are frustrated,” Vicki Timpson of Centennial Park said. “A lot of us who are happy don’t broadcast our lifestyle.”
Another polygamy supporter, who declined to give her name, said members of the polygamous community just want to live in peace.
“We’re not victimized,” she said. “Most of us were of age when we got married.”
Several women contended that polygamy is a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose First Ward members control the school district and government in the Colorado City, Ariz.-Hildale, Utah area.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose office arranged the meeting, said a raid by authorities 50 years ago on the Arizona polygamous community of Short Creek, which is now Colorado City, might have been a mistake, but that it would be a greater mistake to ignore allegations of abuse, fraud and other offenses.
His office has heard allegations of underage girls being forced into marriage, children being abused, schools refusing to teach science and polygamists defrauding the government of welfare money, he said.
“This is not a crackdown on polygamy,” Shurtleff said. “This is a crackdown on criminals.”
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard also said that mistakes were made in confronting polygamy, but that the two states must work together now to protect children.
Marianne Watson of Salt Lake City, who was raised in a plural family, said polygamous society is often portrayed as being filled with fraud and abuse.
“It’s not true,” she said. “There’s no evidence that child abuse and fraud are inherent in polygamy.”
Others at the summit, however, said the allegations about abuses are true.
Carla Holm said she left the polygamous community when she was 15 and had nowhere to go. She managed to finish high school and start a new life but others weren’t so lucky, she said.
Three of her female cousins left Colorado City in the past six months, but returned and were married off within a week, Holm said. Young people who leave must have some kind of shelter to go to, she said.
Bob Curran, of Help the Child Brides, claimed that there is child or spousal abuse in every home in Hildale. His remark was greeted with angry shouts and denials from the crowd, but he continued, “It’s not about religion or even polygamy,” he said. “It’s about abuse.”
Shurtleff said the summit is just a first step and that authorities will continue to work to provide resources and find solution for the polygamous communities.