On the EDge: Questions remain in aftermath of polygamy ruling

OPINION – There are more questions than answers in the aftermath of Friday’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups that eviscerated the state’s anti-polygamy law.

The judge took a very narrow position in his decision that, quite frankly, still puzzles me after going through the 91-page ruling he issued. The decision, in a nutshell, declares that violation of the Utah polygamy/bigamy statute can only take place if a person has more than one marriage license on file with the state.

Everything else – from cohabitation to spiritual marriage – is OK.

Gov. Gary Herbert said he doesn’t know yet if the state will appeal the decision. He said he is studying the issue, which in Real World-speak means he is huddling with his political advisors to determine how voters would react to a challenge of the Waddoups decision. It’s always about the votes, you know. Herbert told the Salt Lake Tribune he would “much rather see decisions on social issues” made by the Legislature, but he still needs “to understand the arguments and logic” that went into the ruling.

Members of the Utah Attorney General’s Office begin meetings Monday to also explore their options. However, given the history of that office, and how the previous two administrators of that office turned a blind eye to polygamy, I have little faith anything of substance will come from it. As far as the Legislature is concerned, I have even less confidence in the right thing being done. We’ll probably see a lot of razzle but very little dazzle.

There were a number of people wondering how the decision would impact the mainstream LDS church. The church issued a statement on the Waddoups decision that read:

This ruling will have no effect on Church (sic) doctrine or practice. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy, regardless of its legal or cultural acceptance. The polygamists and polygamist organizations in parts of the western United States and Canada have no affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite the fact that the term Mormon – widely understood to be a nickname for Latter-day Saints – is sometimes misleadingly applied to them.

I would be willing to bet my last dollar that the church will not rescind its current prohibition of plural marriage. There would simply be too much at stake, plus it would create massive problems for members of the mainstream church in the other 49 states and countries across the globe where polygamy is still illegal. I seriously doubt that a revelation allowing a return to The Principle is imminent.

I do, however, see the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. repopulated by the many who relocated to FLDS enclaves in Texas, rural Colorado, and South Dakota. Why risk prosecution elsewhere when you can go home and not worry about the cops hauling you in?

And, there have been some who say that by decriminalizing polygamy, there will be less sexual abuse of young girls who are forced into marriage with older men. If anything, I would expect that the incidence of abuse would increase. Do the math. There are only so many females in that community.

Because doctrine instructs that plural marriage is the gateway to eternal salvation, more and more men will now want to save their souls, even if it means marrying little girls.

When there was a law on the books, cops were reluctant to enforce it. Now that there virtually is none, spiritual marriages will occur unfettered, which means more and more females will be tossed into spiritual marriage.

The most disturbing aspect of all of this is that I have seen and heard a number of comments stating that “now the doors are open to just about anything.”

Again, in Real World-speak, that translates into the ultimate lifting of the ban on same-sex marriage.

Somehow, polygamy and same-sex marriage got linked along the way. In fact, in his decision, Waddoups cited in partial defense of his decision a Texas case where the anti-sodomy laws were overturned.

Members of the gay community that I know have not been particularly comfortable with the linkage between their circumstance and that of the fundamentalist polygamists, and rightly so, because they are two completely different issues.

They abhor the pedophiles who hide behind religion, they are disgusted by the fraud committed by those who practice “Bleeding The Beast,” and they take great issue with those who would repress or deny equal rights, as in the way women are regarded in polygamous societies.

We, as a society, have more to lose with the legalization of polygamy than with the legalization of same-sex marriage, not because of morality, or the odd nature of plural marriage, but because of the context of the polygamous culture.

But, I seriously doubt that is the prevailing attitude in Utah, where there’s a lot of talk about civil liberties with not much action.

Same-sex marriage is clearly a case of civil liberties restrained. Polygamy, within the context of the sexual abuse, fraud, and rejection of women’s rights that takes place, is not, even under the umbrella of the First Amendment and religious freedom clause, a fact lost on many, but a reasonable limitation nonetheless.

The ruling does, according to some from within the polygamous world, have an impact on the fundamentalist leaders.

Jailed pedophile Warren Jeffs, who leads the FLDS, and leaders of the Apostolic United Brethren, or AUB, out of northern Utah, have, for years, built upon what they call the persecution of their people for their belief in plural marriage.

Now that the law has been overturned, what other tools will they use to propagandize their congregations?

No bad days!


20131213 Memorandum of Decision Brown v Buhman

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.


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  • Craig December 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I don’t know why the AG and/or the Gov. would be examining this ruling. They did NOTHING before the ruling and now, this ruling gives them an easy out.

    • McMurphy December 18, 2013 at 11:23 am

      You are correct, which why things won’t change in Short Creek. State and local law enforcement were ignored before the ruling because they did nothing. I did not particularly care that the law on polygamy was not enforced, but the lack of concern about child abuse and the buying, selling and trading of young women which is tantamount to slavery was unforgivable and disgraceful.

  • Anon December 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Respectfully, I must disagree with your analysis. The state’s only interest is in the license for two people to be legally (for the purposes of the state) married. It has no business telling people whether or not they can live together, or what their relations can be like. A law prohibiting cohabitation that is selectively enforced against polygamists is obviously unconstitutional since many unmarried, non-polygamists now live together. Same with a spiritual marriage. It’s simply not enforceable, which is why the state cannot control the practice. While I do not like much of what goes on in Utah’s traditionally polygamous communities, a bad law is a bad law.

  • Dude December 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Utah once had a law against interracial marriages. It was passed by the territorial Legislature in 1888 and repealed in 1963. It seems that most Utahans are more receptive toward polygamy (one man with multiple women) than they are toward any intermixing of races, even if it’s one man/one woman. Utah had sleazy religious polygamists noted for their sexual interest in young girls.

  • bUB December 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    The fact is the dominant religious organization that controls most of what goes on in this state would like any publicity about the FLDS swept under the rug. They don’t like the attention it brings to their own organization and the fact that they started all of this in the first place, so they don’t want any prosecutions, because it makes them look bad. Prosecuting them for welfare fraud would be a start, but we’ll never see anything done, because this is utah. Leave it to Texas to prosecute the FLDS pedophile “prophet” Jeffs. Because Utah doesn’t want to make mormonism look like a bad thing here at home.

    • Zeke December 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Jeff’s operation has always been in Colorado City ARIZONA. Although there is some of that city that spills over the border into Utah and that area is called Hilldale UT. Soooooo, I guess it would be up to the AZ Attorney General to handle any concerns they had about Warren Jeff’s

      • bUB December 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm

        I thought the whole little area was one big polygamist colony. Probably wouldn’t be too hard too find some of his victims on the Utah side either way.

  • ladybugavenger December 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    What if I were to have a bunch of husbands. Would that be acceptable as long as I only had one marriage certificate? Then I could have 1 to take out the trash. 1 to do yardwork 1 to do maintenance on the house. then my favorite one, of course. and 1 to build stuff.

  • Cole Hulse December 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Ed is a statist, and therefore every problem, in his view, has a state solution.
    This case is very simple. What happens between consenting adults is absolutely nobody’s business, least of all the state’s.
    If something is happening to someone who is not an adult, or it is not consensual, then deal with it.
    Gay-marriage and plural marriage are absolutely linked, in that the state is involving itself in something that it has no ethical justification being involved in. The state should not be involved in marriage at all, but so long as it is, the only “definition” or limitation whatsoever that can be rationally justified is the criteria of consent. There is no room for nitpicking. As long as all parties are consenting adults, then leave them alone.

    • mark boggs December 18, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Bingo. I would quibble with the charge of “statist” however. I’m pretty sure Ed sees gay-marriage as permissible as well as drug legalization. This is why his passionate opposition to this ruling seems so inconsistent. I see the same gap in logic when Mr. Hyde decries gay marriage while touting libertarian ideals.

  • bUB December 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    One thing is for sure. Life would be a little less interesting without those polygamists parked up there in that little town. It’s kind of like having a sideshow right in our back yard… 😀

  • S Steed December 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I grew up in Hildale UT and from my experience the rate of child abuse is no different than any other city in this area: but that has been the focus of the media. I love my parents (all four of them) and I think they have done a better job of raising their 36 kids than the average parent here in St George. I also believe that Warren Jeff’s family was planted in that community to dismantle it, and has done a very thorough job. He did nothing to build that community but he almost single handedly destroyed it; he purged the leadership who had invested their lives there. I left when he came to power and I don’t agree with much of their current practices, but the teachings there are essentially the same as the Mormon church. Their not called FLDS for nothing.

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