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Governments' reactions to polygyny

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The media generally refer to plural marriages among LDS Restorationist denominations and sects as "polygamy." However, the practice has always been limited to polygyny: the marriage of one man and two or more women. Polyandry has never been allowed. Thus, polygyny is the more precise term to use here.

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Government response polygynous families:

bullet Utah & Arizona: The State of Utah appears to have had little interest in enforcing its anti-bigamy statutes until recently. There had been only one prosecution in the state of a bigamist during the fifty year period from 1953 to 2003. That was of Tom Green in 2001. Some speculate that the main reason why he was prosecuted was because he:

"...had embarrassed state officials through his aggressive promotion of polygamy in the media at a time when preparations for the Winter Olympics had focused public attention on Utah." 1

Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML) reported that:

" Colorado City on the Arizona-Utah border, Police Chief Sam Roundy told a Denver Post reporter that the practice of polygamy among the city's police was 'none of your's a religion and we have the freedom to do that.'  When asked about his department's failure to interview a 16-year-old girl whose mother had reported she was taken to Canada for marriage to a 39 year old man, he responded 'I didn't feel I had to talk with her.....I'm not going to mess with it.  The state hasn't taken it upon themselves to prosecute. Why should we ?' (Mar. 4, 2001).

The LA. Times reported that:

"Local police and prosecutors continue to defer to the 'privacy' of polygamous groups.  Some have also stated that the crimes associated with polygamy are so numerous that they do not have the resources to prosecute.  Ron Allen, a Utah state senator from the minority Democratic party, has pointed out that the historical practice of polygamy within the mainstream Mormon Church makes it difficult for the 75% Mormon population of Utah to condemn polygamy: 'for people in Utah to confront polygamy means they have to confront practices condoned by their ancestors, including mine.' (Sept. 9, 2001)." 1

State Representative David Zolman (R) of Taylorsville, UT, has advocated:

bullet A study of the implications of decriminalizing polygamy in the state.

bullet Removal of the polygamy ban from the Utah constitution.

bullet An official apology by the Utah government for its anti-bigamy law enforcement raids in 1935, 1944 and 1953 on Short Creek UT, "...a polygamous enclave that now constitutes the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona state line." 2,3

He feels that the apology would erect a "peace bridge" to various Fundamentalist Mormon communities and end decades of hostile confrontation.

bullet 2003-SEP: A Fort Worth newspaper reported that:

"The ritualistic sexual abuse of children is a tenet of the religion of self-styled Mormon sect leader Allen Harrod, 56, of Folsom, Calif., according to a federal criminal complaint ... Harrod promotes sex with children as an educational rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, an affidavit filed with the complaint said." 4

bullet 2004:
bullet Canada: In the province of British Columbia, plural marriages are still illegal in theory, but largely ignored by the government. The provincial government has received advice from two legal sources that the Mormon's right to continue a polygamous lifestyle is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. Freedom of religion guarantees in the Charter trump Canada's marriage legislation. More details.
bullet Arizona: The state government opened an office in Colorado City for law enforcement officers and child protective services workers to help those who wish to leave polygynist homes. 5
bullet 2005-MAY: A Utah court froze what are believed to be more than $100 million in assets of the United Effort Plan, an trust of the FLDS. The plan owns most of the homes and land in the Hildale and Colorado City towns.  5
bullet 2005-JUN: President Warren Jeffs of the FLDS was indicted in Phoenix, AZ in 2005-JUN. He was charged with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in 2002. He is believed to not have had actual sexual contact with the girl, but had allegedly arranged a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28 year-old married man who was a member of his faith group. 5,6
bullet 2005-DEC-15: A Utah woman, identified only as "M.J." launched a lawsuit against the FLDS and its leader Warren Jeffs. She alleged that she was married in a nonconsensual spiritual marriage and that the resulting pregnancies have been physically and emotionally devastating to her. Her lawyer, Roger Hoole, said:

"More young women are coming forward in an effort to stop these coerced, underage marriages.  I think that things are coming to a head in that community.  People are starting to realize that there's no future living in the fear that Warren Jeffs creates to keep his followers loyal." 7

bullet 2006-MAY-17: Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List along with Osama bin Laden. He is accused of arranging marriages between underage girls and older men, of sexual abuse, and of being an accomplice to statutory rape. There are allegations that under Jeffs, there were hundreds of underage marriages within his faith group. Young men are driven out of town in order to lessen the competition for young brides by older men. Older men have also been ejected, and their wives have been distributed among other men. Carolyn Jessop, who left an 18-year marriage to a man 32 years older than herself said that Jeffs has "...committed some horrific crimes against people and I think he views himself as untouchable." Richard Holm, who was forced to leave the group in 2003 without his 17 children and three wives, is reported as having said:

"I think he's a religious pervert, an extreme zealot or a religious extremist and a control freak. His leadership has totally disrupted whatever was good about the church." 8

Information on the arrest of Warren Jeffs

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Potential for polygamy in Colombia, South America:

Polygyny is theoretically legal in the country of Colombia: Colombia installed a new penal code on 2001-JUL-25. The country's chief prosecutor, Alfonso Gomez Mendez, is one of the authors of the new code. He said that the bigamy law, with a potential sentence of four years in jail, will been dropped because it is irrelevant. There have been no recent reported cases. Roman Catholic Bishop Hector Gutierrez commented: "This opens the door to promiscuity.'' Some have speculated that since the LDS church only suspended the practice of polygyny in 1890, that perhaps its male followers in Colombia will start to take multiple wives. 9

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Calls for action: USA: Polygamy related abuses in Utah," Women living under Muslim laws (WLUML), 2002-FEB-15, at:
  2. Dan Harrie, "A GOP lawmaker says polygamists deserve an apology," Salt Lake, undated, at:
  3. Martha Bradley, "Kidnapped From That Land; The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists," University of Utah Press, (Reprinted 1996). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book storeMidwest Book Review states that this:

    " the first book to tell the story of the 1953 raid as well as two previous raids. With insight and compassion for the families that were fragmented by the arrests, Martha Bradley reveals the complex legal and religious issues surrounding the practice of polygamy. 'Kidnapped From That Land' is a masterpiece of scholarship and a 'window in time' upon one of the more curious and enduring subcultures in America."

  4. Toni Heinzl, "Former Fort Worth couple indicted in child sex case," Star-Telegram, Fort Worth TX, 2003-SEP-19, at:
  5. Mark Shaffer, "Polygamist indicted in child-sex case. Mohave County files 2 counts on elusive leader," The Arizona Republic, 2005-JUN-11, at:
  6. "Charges filed in Girl's arranged marriage," 2005-JUN-11, Los Angeles Times, 2005-JUN-11, at:
  7. "Woman sues polygamist sect," Associated Press, 2005-DEC-15, at:
  8. Jenniver Dobner, "Renegade polygamist has loyal following," Toronto Star, 2006-MAY-17, Page A14.
  9. "Country poised to decriminalize bigamy," Reuters, 2001-JUN-12.

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Copyright 1997 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-NOV-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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