Sunstone addresses polygamy

SALT LAKE CITY — The symposium program frames the question this way: How is the state of Utah dealing with contemporary polygamy?

The answer is: differently than ever before, Utah Attorney General Office spokesman Paul Murphy says.

Raids on the families of Short Creek in 1953 — an area known today as the border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., — were a mistake, Murphy said. But the state’s decision to ignore those communities for the 50 years that followed “was an even bigger mistake,” he adds.

These days the attorney general’s approach is two-pronged.

“There’s the law enforcement track and the safety net track,” Murphy explains, adding that both require — and have had– the active involvement of many practicing polygamists.

“It is no longer us talking about them and them talking about us,” Murphy said, recounting a discussion with a polygamist woman with whom he consults. “It’s about all of us coming together and trying to come up with solutions.”

Murphy’s remarks were made Friday during a breakout session of the annual Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. The three-day event is sponsored by the Sunstone Foundation, an organization founded in 1974 as an open forum for the discussion of spiritual, intellectual, historical and cultural issues associated with Mormon life.

Once a principal tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church abandoned the practice of plural marriage more than 100 years ago as Utah sought statehood.

But several sects of believers — today often referred to as fundamentalist Mormons — refused to abandon the practice and continue to believe that it is a cornerstone of their eternal salvation.

Utah authorities have paid frenetic attention to the issue, sometimes actively seeking to arrest and prosecute members of various polygamous sects, or conversely ignoring them.

Beginning in the mid-1990s a handful of criminal prosecutions raised awareness about acts of child abuse, domestic violence and fraud occurring among some groups. That prompted Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to seek ways to address the problem.

His two-track approach is designed to tackle real crime and give social support to women and children without persecuting religious beliefs, Murphy said.

A working group of practicing polygamists — mostly women — law enforcement and social workers has produced training classes and a manual for understanding the polygamist culture and the unique problems that those seeking help or leaving their communities face.

“We want to make sure the folks in those communities have equal access to justice and services,” Murphy said. “Are we doing enough? Of course not.”

Session moderator Anne Wilde, who helped organize the pro-plural marriage group Principle Voice of Polygamy, said the attorney general’s approach is progress because the office has listened to the polygamist point of view.

“We’ve said do nothing about us, without us,” Wilde said. “People are listening for the first time.”

Murphy believes the cooperation present a historic opportunity.

“Everyone is hopeful about what can be accomplished,” he said. “And everyone is fearful about what will happen if we fail.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, via Standard-Examiner, USA
July 29, 2005
Jennifer Dobner
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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday July 30, 2005.
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