Photo Credits: Christian Post
The Utah State Senate passed Bill SB-102 which proposes to reclassify bigamy as an infraction instead of a felony. The bill sponsor, Senator Deirdre Henderson, says that criminalization of polygamy has done nothing to deter or eliminate the practice. He thinks that it has driven it underground, putting strain on polygamous families and creating barriers to employment, education, and health care. “In these isolated, insular communities, that’s where a lot of the problems can really escalate. And that’s where the bad people can really — and have — weaponized the law in order to keep their victims silent and isolated in their control.”
On the other side, advocates from the anti-polygamy Sound Choices Coalition argue that polygamy cannot be separated from spiritual abuse. The group’s director, Angela Kelly, recently stirred up controversy when she drew a comparison between polygamy and slavery by placing a label that said “slave” in front of Utah’s first African-American woman legislator, Representative Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City).
Patriarchal polygamists believe that the prophet or priesthood leader the women marry ‘presides over them’ and he is therefore entitled to receive revelation from God concerning the women, empowering the male leaders with an ecclesiastical and fiduciary status beyond that of standard ordained clergy. Women are required to repent of their sins, and the repentance process can be publicly humiliating, [psychologically] devastating, and even physically violent if necessary to achieve the desired humility and obedience.
As the Patheos Friendly Atheist reports, professor Rose McDermott, author of The Evils of Polygyny, describes evidence linking polygyny (the marriage of one man to multiple women) to sex trafficking, domestic violence, decreased education, increased child labor, malnourishment, genetic abnormalities, depression, and anxiety, among other issues.
Humane reasons are cited as justification for this bill:
The goal is to lessen the fear and secrecy so that as children grow up integrated into society they will have better access to education, which of course leads to a better understanding of their opportunities in life. Children in closed societies are often barred from choice. Easing up on criminal penalties for otherwise law-abiding polygamists will lessen the need for secrecy and isolation.
Polygamy is not a victimless crime between consenting adults, and there are plenty of studies documenting the harmful effects of polygamy, including higher rates of disabilities from incestual relationships, higher rates of depression and anxiety in senior wives, etc.