Utah May Stop Prosecuting Some Polygamists Under Proposed Bill

Utah State CapitolUtah polygamists who are not committing child abuse, child sexual abuse nor fraud will not be prosecuted for their plural “marriages” under a bill introduced Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, says Utah bigamist laws need to be tweaked so that law-abiding people who live a polygamist lifestyle no longer need fear prosecution under Utah law.

Utah’s Constitution expressly forbids polygamy – one of the few states’ constitutions to do so – a prohibition Congress required in 1896 for Utah to become a state.

“We are not trying to change the (Utah) Constitution,” Noel told UtahPolicy. Such an amendment “probably wouldn’t pass (voters’ approval) anyway.”

HB281 is a short bill with some big implications – especially for polygamist families in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, which in effect said all people must be treated equally in marriage, as long as there is no other criminality involved.

Noel, who represents that polygamist community of Hilldale, Utah, said the changes he proposes “immediately” gets Utah out of a lawsuit now in the 10thCircuit Court of Appeals.

“The idea is we pass this quickly, the governor signs it, and the court case is moot as far as Utah is concerned.”

But it not just about getting Utah out of a federal lawsuit.

“We don’t want to punish anyone anymore  (polygamists) who are obeying all other laws,” said Noel.

This new bill applies more to groups like the Davis County Kingstons, who have long had acceptable businesses and lifestyles, rather than the “Warren Jeffs” of the world, said Noel.

Jeffs, the avowed “prophet” of the religious/polygamist fundamentalist Mormon group in Hilldale, is now serving time for child sexual molestation for “marrying” an underage girl and forcing her to have sex with him.

The Hilldale polygamists have also been accused of various types of fraud as they try to maintain their hold on large properties and businesses in southern Utah.

All those kinds of activities will still be illegal, said Noel.

But if polygamists are different only in that they are “living” with groups of people – and consider themselves “married” in a religious sense – then they will not be prosecuted by Utah officials, said Noel.

It will still be illegal in Utah for one person who knows another person is legally married, to marry that person – which is known as bigamy.

Bigamy would remain a third-degree felony under Noel’s bill.