Moran: Decriminalizing Polygamy Will Build Bridges And Help Those In Need



Legislation decriminalizing polygamy will help people who have too long been isolated on the edge of society.(Courtesy Flickr)

By Serena Moran


Utah is known for its many beautiful things. The mountains of the Wasatch Front often look so perfect that the view seems unrealistic. We have the “greatest snow on earth” and attract tourists seeking a perfect day of skiing and snowboarding. People travel from all around the world to see our national parks. Most importantly, Utah has accepting people and a loving culture.

Utah has a religious reputation as well. It is known for its large population of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While this is neither an inherently good nor bad thing, many people from other states falsely believe that Utahns worship Brigham Young and that male members of the church have multiple wives. While this is not the case for most Utahns, polygamists do reside in Utah and continue to practice today.

Perhaps the most well-known organization practicing polygamy is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS church has made efforts to stay under the radar, especially because the practice of polygamy is illegal within the state of Utah. This state legislative session, state Sen. Deidre Henderson passed a bill to decriminalize polygamy  — not legalize it — hoping it will help and prevent the isolation of people in polygamous communities.

Many FLDS members practice polygamy voluntarily. Many others do not. Members are born into their family religion without choice, but they should be free to leave if they do not want to practice that lifestyle. By decriminalizing polygamy, those who want to leave and begin a new way of living would be able to transition out with less stigma. They can change their lives without the fear of being punished by the law.

This is especially important for those fleeing an unsafe environment. Polygamist groups face the same tough issues as the rest of society, including sexual assault and other kinds of abuse. Abuse comes in many forms, including incest (some members believe it is important to keep their bloodline pure). Those who wish to leave to escape abuse should be able to seek help without fear of arrest. They do not deserve punishment — their abusers do. The state of Utah has the obligation to provide for the safety of its residents, including those who are polygamists.

Those who do consent would be allowed to live their way of life without feeling like criminals. Consenting adults should be able to have the partners they please. Hopefully decriminalizing polygamy will help them feel less isolated and judged by the state. This bill may be difficult to accept, but it will ultimately benefit both sides, and laws should be made based on facts, not emotions.

It is a waste of taxpayer money and police time to send consenting adults to jail for having multiple partners. The real issue is abusive and forced relationships, especially involving minors. Polygamy will remain illegal under this bill, but punishment will be lowered for those who practice it. This bill would also keep marriage to a minor without consent illegal. Polygamy has always existed in Utah, even when illegal. Criminalizing polygamy has done little to lower participation—it just pushes it underground. While polygamist relationships may also involve abuse, these problems exist within legal, monogamous marriages as well.

The benefits of decriminalizing polygamy triumph over the concerns. Many current and former practitioners of polygamy support this change. Some enjoy the thought of their lifestyle being decriminalized because they believe they have the right to live their life as they see fit, just as any monogamous adult would. Others, including former polygamists, support this because they believe it would help those who are searching for a way out of a polygamous lifestyle. Either way, this legislation will help people who have too long been isolated on the edge of society.


[email protected]