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Penalties For Polygamy To Significantly Decrease In Utah

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(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

This Feb. 10, 2017, file photo, Kody Brown, left, from TV's reality show "Sister Wives," marches during a protest at the state Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

Polygamy may no longer be a felony offense in Utah, should the governor sign the measure passed by state lawmakers.

They overwhelmingly supported the measure that would move polygamy by three or more consenting adults from a fourth-degree felony to that of a traffic ticket. 

Currently, people can be punished by up to five years in prison - if convicted of polygamy. 

Nate Carlisle with the Salt Lake Tribune said the move is a historical shift in the state's policy on polygamy.

"For years, decades, polygamy has been a felony in Utah, even if it was practiced only among consenting adults," Carlisle said, "This is going to change that so now, it's even less than a traffic ticket. But the real goal is that it not be prosecuted at all."

Carlisle said prosecutors in Utah had not been going after polygamists in consenting relationships for a long time and this new law just codifies that practice.

Besides just putting into law a practice that had been going on for a while, there were a few things behind the effort to change the polygamy law, Carlisle said, including concerns that the law was going to be found unconstitutional because it targeted a religious minority.

Under Utah law, three or more consenting adults living together but not married could not be prosecuted. 

Support comes from

In addition, Carlisle said there has been a "changing of the guard" in the Utah Legislature. Those lawmakers who had pushed for strengthening polygamy laws a few years ago have left.

"There is kind of a Generation X of legislators now that have a little more libertarian attitude on this topic," he said.

Carlisle said that the sponsor of the legislation did a lot of work to get consensus and compromise on the bill. She talked to other lawmakers, people in the polygamy community, and social services that serve that community to get support for it.

While there is widespread support for the change, there are groups who have come out against the bill.

"They cite a few things," Carlisle said, "First of all, stories of the people that they've helped over the years and they truly have some horrendous stories about what happened within their own households." 

They also argue that it has a negative impact on women and children. 

Another factor for getting the bill through the Utah Legislature is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church did not get involved in the debate. A majority of people in Utah are members of the church. 

In years past, the church has frowned on loosening the polygamy laws but this time it stayed out of the discussion, Carlisle said.

Although at one time, the church practiced polygamy. It officially disavowed the practice in 1890.

Guests

Nate Carlisle, polygamy reporter, Salt Lake Tribune 

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