The Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved and forwarded a bill creating the crime of “child bigamy” and providing penalties for it.
In other business, the Senate on Feb. 11 handed a temporary setback to proponents of a medical malpractice bill.
The child bigamy bill (S1335) makes the crime a Class 3 felony, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $150,000 fine. It is similar to a Utah law, said its sponsor, Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Dist. 19.
Growing problems with citizens of Colorado City taking several wives, including children, prompted the legislation. Colorado City is home to a fundamentalist sect, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practices polygamy. The main body of the Mormon faith abandoned the practice nearly 100 years ago, and a constitutional prohibition against the practice was a condition for statehood for both Utah and Arizona.
Republican Sen. Linda Binder, whose District 3 includes Colorado City where polygamist activities are under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, said two young girls who recently fled the town have been placed with Child Protective Services. The girls left after being told that, “in a couple of hours” they were to wed older married men they didn’t know.
“This kind of equates to being told you’re going to be raped in two hours,” she said.
The bill says a person who is 18 or older commits child bigamy by being directly or indirectly involved in the marriage or cohabitation between a child and a person who is someone else’s spouse. It received a 9-0 do-pass recommendation.
Current state laws prohibit plural marriages and provide penalties of jail time. Thomas Haws representing an organization called Help the Child Brides, testified in support of the bill, saying, “Current laws against polygamy have no teeth.”
“We [as a state] don’t feel justified going against polygamists,” he said. Mr. Haws, a member of the main LDS Church, told reporters. He told the committee polygamy involving child brides happens because there are not enough adult women to share as wives.
“So, what we’re trying to do with this bill is address that,” Mr. Haws said.