Most Utahns favor a bill that would restrict prosecutions of polygamists unless there is evidence of child abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.
HB281 would put into statute the prosecutorial guidelines now followed by most county attorneys and the Attorney Generals Office, says Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, whose district includes several large polygamist enclaves.
Noel told UtahPolicy he was not running his legislation for those groups – one of which recently had federal fraud charges brought against some of its leading members.
Rather, says Noel, he doesn’t want non-criminal polygamists to fear an “over-zealous” prosecutor who may go after a polygamist family just because of their lifestyle.
Because of Utah’s Mormon history, the state Constitution is strict on polygamy, saying it will be “forever” banned in the state.
And many faithful members of the LDS Church have a dim view of the practice, even though their ancestors may have practiced it themselves.
Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 56 percent of Utahns favor changing state law in a manner that would result in polygamist not being prosecuted unless there is some other kind of criminal activity going on besides just a person living with several people of the opposite sex.
Thirty-one percent oppose making the change, and 13 percent don’t know, Jones finds.
“Very active” Mormons – no doubt because of their church’s dislike of spin-off, fundamentalist polygamist groups – barely favor easing up on polygamists:
52 percent of very active Mormons support the change, 35 percent oppose, and 13 percent are undecided.
68 percent of somewhat active Mormons support it, 25 percent oppose and 7 percent don’t know.
Those who belong to other religions also greatly favor the change.
63 percent of those who told Jones they have no religion favor it, only 19 percent disapprove of the change, and 15 percent don’t know.
Utah Republicans barely want to ease up on polygamists, 52-35 percent.
Political independents also favor the change, 56-34 percent.
Noel told a House committee hearing on his bill that if it passes, the only folks who would be prosecuted under polygamy law in Utah would be those who cohabitate with two or more other people and/or are legally married to two or more people AND who commit some kind of abuse within that relationship – child, sex, or spousal abuse – or commit fraud as part of the relationship.
Those recently charged by federal prosecutors were not charged under polygamy laws, but with fraud for cheating on the federal food stamp program.
That, of course, would still be a violation under HB281, says Noel.
Noel’s bill now sits on the House floor calendar awaiting a vote by the whole body. If it passes there, it still must pass the Senate and signed into law by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
Jones polled 625 adults from Feb. 10-15, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.92 percent.