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2020-MAY: Polygamy is almost legalized in Utah!

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Some word definitions:

  • Polygamy: A person having multiple wives and/or husbands at the same time.

  • Polyandry: A person having more than one husband at the same time.

  • Polygyny: A person having more than one wife at the same time.

All of the above forms of marriage were -- and remain -- illegal in every state and territory of the U.S. However, during the year 2020, the state of Utah drastically reduced the penalty that is imposed when a person is found guilty of such a marriage, from a felony to a ticket similar to those issued for traffic infractions.

Since plural marriages remain illegal, the new law does not violate Utah's constitution which prohibits such marriages.

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Polygamy laws in Utah:

Utah law 76-7-101 refers to "persons" married to more than one spouse. Thus, it criminalize one woman married to multiple men, one man married to multiple women, and one person married to multiple persons of any combination of genders.

Utah was originally populated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who moved westward to escape persecution from other Christian groups. The Church originally promoted polygamy: one male marrying multiple females. It was founded by Joseph Smith who is estimated to have had 27 to 60 wives -- sources differ. Some wives were in their early teens when he married them.

The federal government only granted Utah statehood in 1886 after the Church promised to abandon its polygamous policies and promote monogamy. This caused a few small splinter groups to leave the main Church and form groups that continued the policy of polygamy.

Utah's laws against the practice were the harshest in the U.S. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to strongly oppose polygamy. However the Church did not take a major role when a new polyandry law -- SB102 -- was raised in the State Legislature and passed during 2020.

The bill's chief sponsor was Senator Deidre M. Henderson (R). The house sponsor was Representative Lowry V. Snow (R). There were 19 cosponsors. The bill amended law 76-7-101. 4 That bill, as originally written, banned all forms of bigamy: one person being married to more than one other person. It banned both polygamy -- one man married to more than one woman -- and polyandry -- one woman married to more than one man.

The new bill passed by a vote of 27 to 0 in the Senate! 2 and 70 to 3 in the House. It was signed by the Governor on 2020-MAR-28 and became effective on 2020-MAY-12. Polygamy among consenting adults is no longer a felony punishable with five to 15 years in prison. It remains illegal but is now an "infraction." Those found "guilty" will be issued a ticket. This is an offense less serious than some traffic tickets. However, inducing involuntary bigamy is now a third degree felony. 1,2,3,4

Sarah M.S. Pearsall, professor of American history at Cambridge University, said:

"It is a significant change in the history of American marriage, since it enshrines the principle that consenting adults should not be treated as criminals for choosing to live in plural marriages." 2

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References used:

  1. "Did Joseph Smith have sex with his wives? (and other questions answered)," Mormonism Research Ministry, undated, at: https://www.mrm.org/
  2. "Utah Legislature votes to decriminalize polygamy," The Salt Lake Tribune, at: https://www.sltrib.com/
  3. "How an 1843 revelation on polygamy poses a serious challenge to modern Mormonism," Religion Dispatches, 2020-MAY-14, at: https://religiondispatches.org/
  4. "S.B. 102: Bigamy Amendments," Utah State Legislature, at: https://le.utah.gov/

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Copyright © 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2020-MAY-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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