The first ever polygamy summit involving officials from Utah and Arizona turned into an extraordinary event today. The extraordinary summit meeting was the first such effort in a half century.
Dozens of polygamist wives and fundamentalists jammed the meeting room insisting they have a right to practice their religion. Although the women are upset about the trend to prosecuting polygamous they did find common ground with state officials today on many issues.
Utah and Arizona are developing a joint strategy to enforce the law and provide social services in the polygamous community that straddles the Utah Arizona line.
So many polygamists jammed the summit meeting that it had to be moved to the Dixie Center. An hour before the summit began, fundamentalist women began showing up, many with babes in arms and wearing the distinctive dress and hairstyles of polygamist communities. By the time officials and invited guests arrived, the room was jammed and the meeting had to be moved.
The purpose of the summit was to thrash out a two state strategy for enforcing the law and for dealing with social problems in polygamist communities. Fundamentalists say it’s time for society to simply accept their culture.
Mary Batchelor, Polygamist Wife: “Any culture should be supported and respected. The homosexuality culture was against the law and that has changed. Times change.”
Mark Shurtleff: “We respect sincere religious beliefs, but we cannot and we will not tolerate crimes being committed in the name of religion. No one has the right, in the name of religion, to force a minor to marry an older man, or into sexual relationships with that man.”
After the summit was moved, the women had a chance to speak. Most women support goal of the summit, to provide better social services and government support systems to the polygamist communities.
It was also clear today that none of the women there were followers of the cult leader Warren Jeffs. The women that attended either belong to other groups or no groups at all.
It’s now believed Warren Jeffs may have fled the state. In a sermon two weeks ago he suspended all church meetings, he halted all marriages, and state investigators say he told his followers they “are not righteous enough to have a prophet” living in their midst.
Investigators aren’t sure, but think he may have left the state knowing he faced possible prosecution.