SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker countered a Senate colleague’s dispersal of an anti-polygamy book by passing out folders defending the practice as natural and not necessarily harmful.
Sen. Carlene Walker, of Cottonwood Heights, said she was offended by the title of the book “God’s Brothel” that Senate Minority Whip Ron Allen distributed, and she wanted to balance its views.
“Polygamy is a frequent, and arguably, from a historical perspective, a most normal, human sexual relationship throughout most of human history in a majority of societies around the world,” reads one of the passages in the folder.
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It came from the Centennial Park Action Committee, a group of women near the Utah-Arizona state line who say it’s unfair to characterize polygamists as “oppressed,” “abused” or “brainwashed.”
Walker said she has known polygamists who are “fine, honest, educated, wonderful people.”
“To characterize the whole polygamy community as abusive to children and the welfare system is inaccurate,” Walker said.
Allen says people are misunderstanding his point of demonstrating abuses in polygamous relationships, and he passed out 104 copies of the book to legislators because he wanted them to understand polygamy isn’t harmless.
“It’s not fair to say we should ignore it,” he said.
Allen helped enact a child bigamy law in 2003 that made forced marriages of minors a second-degree felony punishable by one to 15 years in prison.
Before, the offense carried only 30 days in jail, and was rarely enforced, Allen said. He said the marrying of teenage girls was a common practice among some of Utah’s isolated polygamist communities until the state served notice it was cracking down.
The book, written by Salt Lake City author Andrea Moore-Emmett, tells the stories of 18 women who claim they suffered rape, incest and violence in polygamous communities.
Copies of the book were donated by publisher Pince-Nez Press, of San Francisco.
Polygamy is among the teachings of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith. But the practice was abandoned by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago as the Utah territory sought statehood.
The Utah Constitution bans polygamy and the mainstream Mormon church now excommunicates those who advocate it. But it’s believed that tens of thousands in Utah and more than 30,000 across the West continue to practice it.