OPINION – In a decision that was not entirely unexpected, a U.S. District Court judge stripped the guts of Utah’s anti-polygamy law Friday.
In his 91-page ruling, Judge Clark Waddoups struck down the heart of Chapter 7, Section 101 of the Utah Criminal Code, which read: “A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.”
Waddoups hung his decision on a very precise parsing of the code, striking the cohabitation language as unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.
His myopic judicial vision also blurred the section of the code that made it a criminal offense for a person with a legal husband or wife to “purport to marry another person.”
In other words, the pretend marriages fundamentalist Mormon polygamists like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) followers participate in are not outside of the law now, even if those who engage in them “purport” to the community that they are “spiritually married.”
The wags from both sides are all over the place on Waddoups’s ruling.
The Left looks at it as a decision that allows us to close our bedroom doors to the government’s prying eyes and conduct ourselves as we so desire as long as the activities are conducted between consenting adults. There is, of course, a dangerous naivete to that line of thinking, which lacks depth and contextualization of the polygamous lifestyle, especially as followed by those along the Utah-Arizona state line.
The Right, looks at it as a win against those who would, as they say, “rob us of our rights,” which apparently are untouchable in their eyes when it comes to toting a concealed weapon, religious expression (as long as it presents itself as Christianity or an extension of Christianity), and limiting government. When it comes to other social rights, such as same-sex marriage, immigration reform, even marijuana decriminalization or legalization, however, it’s a different matter and the public’s rights be damned.
Waddoups’s judgment was a deliberate, selective parsing of the Utah statute that conveniently overlooked the context of polygamy as practiced by these fundamentalists.
It overlooked the sexual abuse of young girls placed into marriage with much older men; it overlooked the rescinding of women’s rights as equal marriage partners by allowing them to be physically and emotionally beaten into lives of servitude to the dominant males – their fathers and husbands – in their lives; it overlooked the welfare fraud and abuse, the “bleeding of the beast,” as these welfare scams are called.
It overlooked the coercion, abuses of an over-arching religious fanatic who preached that those who do not embrace the polygamous lifestyle face eternal damnation. When the words and sermons of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs did not work, he had his own enforcement arm – the Hildale/Colorado City Town Marshal’s Office – to hold the community in line. The Marshal’s, irreverently referred to as Warren’s “God Squad,” were responsible for keeping the peace in the twin cities along the Utah-Arizona state line. By keeping the peace, of course, their primary job was to ensure that nobody got out, that incidents of domestic abuse and violence were handled quietly and outside of the courtroom, and that outsiders were made uncomfortable enough to leave town as quickly as possible, even if it meant trailing their cars as they drove through town.
This case was pressed by TV reality star Kody Brown, his wife, and his mistresses, who are featured on the TLC show “Sister Wives.”
What I truly believe started out as a publicity stunt by Brown and TLC soon evolved into a full-blown cause de celebre, with Brown and his women suddenly in the catbird’s seat when Utah Attorney General John Swallow’s office put up such a poor defense of the state statute that even Waddoups chastised them in court. Of course, that was no surprise, either because Swallow, like his predecessor Mark Shurtleff, had publicly stated that he would not prosecute those who violated the state’s bigamy/polygamy statute. As a result, instead of the Jeremy Johnson or campaign finance scandals, this ruling will be his legacy. I hope he someday realizes the irreparable damage inflicted on little girls forced into these spiritual marriages because he refused to enforce the law. The shame visited upon him by his embarrassing departure from the Attorney General’s Office is nothing when compared with the pain inflicted upon those children and women abused and forced into these spiritual marriages. I know because I know several women who escaped, got away from it. I’ve heard their stories and it inflicts pain in my soul, anger in my brain, hatred in my heart for those who would participate in this vile degradation of the human spirit and body.
But, there is plenty of guilt to pass around as Utah now loses any hope of controlling what goes on out in the high desert, far from the eyes of the law.
Waddoups certainly gets his share of the blame, but so does local law enforcement, which has adamantly refused to clamp down on the child marriages, transportation of minor girls across state lines for sexual purposes (as occurred with the exodus to Texas, Canada, Colorado, and South Dakota), and general welfare fraud that has taken place in Hildale and Colorado City for generations.
There was a reason, of course, why this decision was released to the public late Friday.
In the news business, Friday is the day when PR specialists release the least palatable news.
The “A Team” reporters are about 45 minutes into Happy Hour, with the benchsitters taking the calls Friday afternoon and evening, meaning that is when political and business flaks like to release negative news. They call it “taking out the trash,” because by the time the news hits, most sources are gone for the weekend and the reporter is sitting there with little more than a vague press release and nobody to talk to. The hope, of course, is that the story will die down by the time Monday rolls around, and it won’t get quite as much attention.
It’s a cowardly way to deal with the news, but considering how this decision went down, well…it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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