A piece of legislation that would, in effect, totally decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults was unanimously approved by a Utah Senate committee this week, sending the bill to the full chamber for a vote.
The bill, S.B. 102, was advanced by the state Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee after hearing testimony from those who say the current anti-polygamy law labels otherwise law-abiding citizens as criminals.
Defending the legislation, state Sen. Deidre Henderson (R), who sponsored the bill, said the law, as it is currently written, makes victims of abuse or fraud within polygamist families fearful of coming forward over threat of being arrested.
“They are tired of being treated like second-class citizens,” said Henderson. “They feel like Utah has legalized prejudice against them. They want to be honest people, but feel like they have to lie or teach their children to lie about their families in order to stay safe.”
The law currently on the books deems polygamy a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. An additional 15 years is possible if the defendant is also found guilty of fraud, child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and/or human trafficking.
If approved by the full state Senate, Henderson’s bill would reduce the crime of polygamy to a simple infraction less serious than numerous traffic violations. There would be no jail time for those convicted of polygamy. Instead, they would be subject to a maximum fine of $750 and face potential community service enhancements.