Utah House Ups Underage Polygamy Penalty

The Associated Press, Feb. 28, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Legislature is debating whether to increase the penalties for married men who wed underage girls, an attempt to protect teens from being married into polygamist relationships.

A bill overwhelmingly approved by the House on Tuesday makes marrying a second wife who is under the age of 18 a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The 68-4 vote sent the legislation to the Senate.

“I think it’s many, many years too late,” said state Rep. Sheryl Allen. “Late is better than never, let’s get this passed.”

The marrying of teenage girls is common among some of Utah’s isolated polygamist communities, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long outlawed the practice.

Parents already can be charged with a third-degree felony if they allow a minor to enter into a marriage prohibited by law. Another state rule makes it a third-degree felony for anyone who performs a marriage of a minor that is prohibited. Third-degree felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison.

State laws also states that when an adult has sex with someone age 16 or 17, they are guilty of a felony if they are 10 years older than the teen. In addition, a person can be found guilty of a third-degree felony if they have sex with a 14- or 15-year-old and they are more than four years older than the teen.

The crime of rape of a child, a first-degree felony, occurs when anyone has sex with a child under 14. In Utah, girls are old enough to marry at 16.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016