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It is very difficult to find an issue that has so united Democrats and Republicans in the Utah State Legislature. Imagine a bill receiving only 3 nay votes across the two legislative houses! By contrast, in the same 2020 session, a proposed bill banning all elective abortions (which would only go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade) had 26 overall nay votes, and an amendment to make elective abortion an infraction rather than a second-degree felony was defeated, as was an amendment to not require a woman to report a rape in order to receive an abortion on the grounds of rape. [1] On the issue of abortion, a perfect moral stance on the sinfulness of abortion seemed far more important than the messiness of real life, including the fact that many women are threatened with murder if they do not undergo an abortion. [2]

So this other bill, receiving only 3 nay votes across both houses, must be quite remarkable! It must appear so perfectly moral to both the left and right of the political spectrum in Utah that such extraordinary unity was possible--and remember, the political hard right in Utah includes some extremely orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter CoJC). And what was that consensus issue? That polygamy be in effect decriminalized and made an infraction—a level below many traffic offenses, not even a misdemeanor--instead of the felony it had been to date. [3] It was apparently not enough that the Utah State Attorney General’s office some years ago announced it would not prosecute polygamists unless there were other serious issues involved, such as child abuse or welfare fraud. No, polygamy’s decriminalization in the Utah state statutes was the sought-after prize of the 2020 legislature, despite the fact that bigamous (and by extension polygamous) marriages are not recognized for either immigration or tax purposes at the federal level, and despite the fact that the Brown [4] lawsuit of 2013 forced Utah to drop multiple cohabitation (as versus multiple marriage licenses) as grounds for prosecution under its previous law criminalizing polygamy.

The rationale for this 2020 legislative change was that reducing the penalty for practicing polygamy would allow those being abused in polygamist families to come forward without fear to report that abuse. That, of course, is a bald-faced lie. Victims already possessed the right to come forward without fear, because the older 2017 Utah law on polygamy specifically guaranteed safe harbors (i.e., non-prosecution) for people leaving a polygamous marriage, reporting abuse or protecting a child. [5]

No, this was a smoke-and-mirrors rationale. I first caught a whiff of the real rationale many years ago, before polygamy’s legality was even an issue. That whiff came in 2004 when Utah added, by amendment, a heterosexual definition of marriage to its constitution, before that was undone by Obergefell in 2015. [6] I had a friend in the legislature at the time, who shall remain nameless, who recounted that there was debate over whether the language should define marriage in Utah as being solely between “one man and one woman,” which was in effect Utah law at the time, or as being solely between “a man and a woman.” My friend described how the delimiter was chosen to be “a” because otherwise the Utah state constitution would prohibit the restoration of polygamy in the End Days! Yes, Utah lawmakers at the time were very concerned that they not tie the Lord’s hands, for they were convinced that in the future the Lord would restore the practice of polygyny!

It is my contention that this move to formally decriminalize polygamy achieved the astonishing degree of unanimity it did precisely because the most orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 2020 Utah State Legislature felt the same way as those 2004 lawmakers—that in the Last Days, the Lord will “restore” polygamy, and Utah needs to make sure He is not a criminal when He does. [7] Talk about ark-steadying! These latter-day Uzzahs (2 Samuel 6:6-7) warrant the description we find in the Church’s manual on the D&C [8]:

The Philistines had captured the ark of the covenant in battle but returned it when they were struck by plagues (see 1 Samuel 4–6). David and the people later brought the ark to Jerusalem in an ox cart, driven by Uzzah and Ahio. “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error, and there he died by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:6–7; see vv. 1–11). The ark was the symbol of God’s presence, His glory and majesty. When first given to Israel, the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, and not even the priest was allowed to approach it. Only the high priest, a type of Christ, could approach it, and then only after going through an elaborate ritual of personal cleansing and propitiation for his sins. . . .
However well-meaning Uzzah’s intentions, he approached casually what could only be approached under the strictest conditions. He had no faith in God’s power. He assumed that the ark was in danger, forgetting that it was the physical symbol of the God who has all power. We cannot presume to save God and His kingdom through our own efforts.
“Uzzah’s offence consisted in the fact that he had touched the ark with profane feelings, although with good intentions, namely to prevent its rolling over and falling from the cart. Touching the ark, the throne of the divine glory and visible pledge of the invisible presence of the Lord, was a violation of the majesty of the holy God. ‘Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them’ (O.V. Gerlach).” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, bk. 2: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, “Second Book of Samuel,” p. 333.)
In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8).

Just as in Old Testament times, the Lord does not need the Uzzahs of the 2020 Utah State Legislature to defend His Kingdom. Only mischief results from Uzzah-like actions, and I assert that is precisely what will happen here. This move will not build the Kingdom of God on earth, but will problematize it. It will create worse conditions for those currently suffering from abuse in polygamy, it will undercut the situation of Utah women and children not currently in polygamous unions, and it will actually weaken members of the Church in Utah. The sponsors of this bill, including Deidre Henderson, will have great cause to mourn at what they will have wrought--needless mischief and heartache. I never understood why Uzzah was so severely punished by the Lord, but at long last, I am beginning to understand.

So Why Is This Such a Bad Move?

I offer four interrelated reflections on why this legislative move wreaks folly for a variety of stakeholders.

A. The Law, Morality, and the Church

One can see why the Church authorities stood mute before the unstoppable wave of support for this legislation; as we know from scripture, there are times when the righteous can only stand mute while people do what they are going to do. If the Church had opposed or agreed with what they realized the legislature was going to do, either stance would have been twisted by those wishing to harm the Church. It is noteworthy, however, that KSL NewsRadio and the Deseret News, owned by the Church, were consistently publishing interviews and editorials that opposed the bill, including one I wrote. [9]

The Church’s position is not hard to divine, however. Consider this statement by the Church in 2017, when state law on polygamy was last amended: “When it comes to laws governing polygamy, the church’s primary interest is in looking after potential victims of such associations,” said spokesman Eric Hawkins in a statement. “The church is concerned that reducing the perceived seriousness of this criminal activity sends the message that such abuses are not serious criminal offenses.[10] Notice that the Church was asserting that reducing the perceived seriousness of the crime, when in fact it is a serious crime, would in the end harm the victims and potential victims of it. Notice also that the Church has not changed its position on polygamy in terms of the spiritual seriousness of the crime: no one may be baptized into the Church who practices polygamy, even in countries where the practice is legal, and membership in the Church may be revoked if an individual member takes up a polygamous lifestyle. In the present day, polygamy is adultery, and adultery is the third worst possible sin in the pantheon of sins, right after denying the Holy Ghost and murder. [11]

One can only imagine the sorrow of the Brethren as they contemplated the Utah State Legislature, including its orthodox CoJC members, giving legal cover to this gross sin. Let’s remember what Dallin H. Oaks had to say [12] about other types of laws he felt did the very same thing, such as pro-choice abortion legislation:

Pro-choice slogans have been particularly seductive to Latter-day Saints because we know that moral agency, which can be described as the power of choice, is a fundamental necessity in the gospel plan. All Latter-day Saints are pro-choice according to that theological definition. But being pro-choice on the need for moral agency does not end the matter for us . . . My young brothers and sisters, in today’s world we are not true to our teachings if we are merely pro-choice. We must stand up for the right choice. Those who persist in refusing to think beyond slogans and sound bites like pro-choice wander from the goals they pretend to espouse and wind up giving their support to results they might not support if those results were presented without disguise.
If we say we are anti-abortion in our personal life but pro-choice in public policy, we are saying that we will not use our influence to establish public policies that encourage righteous choices on matters God’s servants have defined as serious sins. I urge Latter-day Saints who have taken that position to ask themselves which other grievous sins should be decriminalized or smiled on by the law on this theory that persons should not be hampered in their choices. Should we decriminalize or lighten the legal consequences of child abuse? Of cruelty to animals? Of pollution? Of fraud? Of fathers who choose to abandon their families for greater freedom or convenience?
Similarly, some reach the pro-choice position by saying we should not legislate morality. Those who take this position should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.

Amen to that! And how exquisitely ironic that no doubt these same orthodox CoJC members in the 2020 Utah State Legislature voted for the new super-strict abortion law for the very reasons President Oaks outlines above! And yet they voted the very opposite way for what their own religion views as a sin just as serious as abortion! Even the church recognizes there are times when abortion may be necessary, but adultery is a horse of a different color altogether. This is not just spiritual incoherence; it is spiritual mischief-making of the worst kind. [13]

B. An Enabling Context

The bill’s sponsor, Deidre Henderson, has said [14], “The purpose of the bill is not to make it easier to get into polygamy, but to make it easier to get out of polygamy.” In this second section of analysis, let’s take the first half of that formulation, and in a later section we’ll look at the second half.

Actually, I’d argue that the bill actually does make it easier to get into polygamy: if you lower the costs of a given action, you will certainly get more of it. Melissa Ellis, vice president of Sound Choices Coalition, asserts that the leaders of polygamous groups see this new bill as a great victory and a great miracle, implying a full vindication of their stance. She suggests these male leaders will tell their congregations, “God has answered our prayers, and polygamy is now decriminalized. God made this happen!” [15] It cannot be argued with a straight face that this new law is not a great boon to those who wish to control others through polygamy. The new law obviously goes much easier on those who wish to break the law. Wasn’t this made plain as day when, generally speaking, polygamists lobbied for the bill, and those who had escaped polygamy lobbied against the bill? It is willful self-deception to pretend otherwise.

It is also true that decriminalization of a practice is often seen as a legal precursor to full legalization, as was the case with marijuana use in many states. In a sense, the problem intensified because the State Attorney General received $40,000 in campaign contributions from businesses associated with the polygamous Kingston clan, while at the same time averring that the state would not go after polygamists who “otherwise follow the law.” [16] The law has been corrupted because those who are tasked with enforcing the law refuse to do so. The problem that needed fixing was not the law, but the law’s enforcement. The criminalization of polygamy was the symbol of promised justice for its victims, but that symbol was made null and void by the State Attorney General’s office.

So, yes, the new law does make it easier to enter and sustain polygamy. It also makes it easier for polygamist groups to become an even larger drain on the state taxpayers. As is well known in many polygamous cultures around the world, most polygamous wives and children are supporting their husbands, not the other way around. These women often live as single mothers live, solely responsible for supporting their children. [17] They will need welfare. And the “cruel arithmetic of polygamy,” as Rose McDermott of Brown University puts it, means that at least 50% of teen boys will be booted from these groups so that older men can marry younger women polygamously; these boys also need intensive welfare services. Through this new decriminalization move, Utah taxpayers are now formally consigned to footing the bill for a lifestyle that is almost by definition parasitical on their largesse, and yet still technically against the law. I predict these costs will rise significantly now that the barriers to practicing polygyny for men are lowered.

And there is very likely to be a greater sense of entitlement among all men in Utah concerning polygyny. While those men who wish to remain in good standing with the CoJC will not be able to do so and also practice polygyny, I’d bet good money that there are men raised in the Old Mormon mindsets who will now feel very tempted to let their membership lapse for the sake of taking another wife. No doubt they will still consider themselves “Mormon,” indeed, more truly so, for they have “restored the old ways.” And they’d be happy to pay that $750 fine to the state of Utah to be able to do so.

And that will mean a lot of not-really-consensual polygyny will be enabled that was not enabled before. Consider a hypothetical 45-year-old CoJC wife and stay-at-home Utah mother whose husband comes home one day and announces he feels called by God to take a 20-year-old as a second wife. If his wife disagrees, he threatens to divorce her, or abandon her, or beat her, or any combination thereof. What, exactly, are her choices in this situation? They all look bad. While husbands have been leaving wives for other women for millennia, now he doesn’t have to leave at all--he just insists on having additional wives. And no alimony or child support needed, of course, for he’s still technically married to his first wife. This woman will be able to thank the Utah State Legislature for her husband’s new sense of entitlement.

And she’ll be facing a number of new, knotty legal problems from which she was previously protected by monogamous marriage law: Do all polygamous spouses qualify for a Utah state tax deduction and married filing status? How will she fill out a federal tax form? Who gets to claim the child tax credit and who qualifies for a dependent care credit with multiple "parents"? What if one of the parents dies without a will? Are all of the spouses guardians of all of the children; for example, do all spouses have legal basis to make schooling and medical decisions for all the children? Can a non-genetic parent in a polygamous household remove a child from the home temporarily or permanently? Who gets custody of which child if there is a full or partial divorce? Who gets the assets after a divorce and how much? How are welfare benefits calculated?

Again, for the women and children of Utah, this is gratuitous and callous mischief-making on the part of the Utah state legislature.

C. The Rug From Under Their Feet

Does this change in law really make it easier for victims to leave polygamy, as Deidre Henderson avers? Again, only an act of willful self-deception would allow one to say yes. Since the State Attorney General did not enforce the old 2017 law, stating he would not do so unless other crimes were involved, and since that 2017 law already gave “safe harbor” to those leaving polygamy so that they could not be prosecuted, this bill changes no facts on the ground at all. As such, it cannot possibly make a change in how easy it is for victims to leave polygamy.

Indeed, the women who have escaped polygyny state they were not in fear of the law; they were in fear of their male leaders. It is their male leaders who can command a woman’s children be taken from her and given to another woman; it is their male leaders who can command a woman’s husband to leave her. In addition to these kinds of visceral threats, these male leaders wield another potent threat: the disapproval of God. As Melissa Ellis described her hesitancy to leave polygyny, “It wasn’t the law that stopped me from leaving; it was fear for my soul. It was fear of God.” [18] Decriminalization only bolsters the hold these male leaders have over these women; it is clear and convincing evidence that they can present to these women that the state is simply not interested. After all, polygamy does not even rise to the level of a misdemeanor anymore.

Furthermore, the Utah State Legislature did not, in its infinite wisdom, think to mitigate the harm they would be creating by, for example, tightening the loopholes in Utah’s marriage law. It is completely possible to get a marriage license at age 16 in Utah with only the consent of one parent. Acquaintances of mine who have escaped polygamy state that such groups often let the births of daughters go unregistered, so that later on the parents can claim the girl is older than she really is. Decriminalization may actually intensify rates of child marriage in this context.

And what happens to state funding for victims of polygamy now that the practice has been decriminalized? Why would that funding continue to be a priority if being cited for polygamy is on a par with getting a traffic citation? Criminalization allowed authorities to get a foot in the door; criminalization taught every citizen of the state that polygamy was harmful; criminalization promised justice to its victims. These goods have all been lost with decriminalization. As Dan Cravens put it, “Given that polygamy has been just given a seal of acceptability by Utah’s legislators it is unlikely that the harsh reality of polygamy will improve, rather it may get even worse.” [19]

Mark me well: I predict the number of Utahns in polygamy will grow substantially in the coming years due to its decriminalization by the 2020 Utah State Legislature. Heartache and sorrow and a growing taxpayer burden will be that body’s lasting legacy for the state of Utah.

D. The Immense Social Costs of Polygyny

There is also a great societal cost to polygamy, one that I attempted to outline in my editorial for the Deseret News, and which I will reiterate here. [20] Where polygyny is involved—and the vast majority of polygamy cases are in fact cases of polygyny—the harm has been found to be inherent in the practice. In 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia was asked to rule on the constitutionality of Canada’s ban on polygamy. One of the star witnesses was Professor Rose McDermott of Brown University, who has penned an entire volume called The Evils of Polygyny summarizing her extensive research.

McDermott finds a statistically significant relationship between the legality and prevalence of polygyny within a country, on the one hand, and what they call “an entire downstream suite of negative consequences for men, women, children, and the nation-state,” on the other. Their data analysis points to a significant relationship between polygyny and poor outcomes including higher levels of sex trafficking and higher levels of domestic violence. In addition, the literature finds consistent underinvestment overall in the children of polygynous unions, including lower rates of primary and secondary education for both male and female children, higher rates of child labor, higher rates of child malnourishment, higher rates of genetic abnormalities, and lower age of marriage for girls. There are also predictable consequences of polygamy’s “cruel arithmetic” for teenage boys, who may be exiled in significant numbers from polygamous communities so that male leaders may have multiple wives.

Other experts have pointed to serious psychological harms for women and children in polygynous marriages, including anxiety and depression. [21] This anxiety and depression may not only be felt by women (and their children) already in polygynous relationships but also by women (and their children) currently in monogamous relationships, who must worry about whether their husband and father will decide to take additional wives.

McDermott concludes: “Policymakers would have to change multiple laws across multiple domains to exert as much of an effect on these negative outcomes toward women and children as could be accomplished by the abolition of polygyny. . . . By prohibiting polygyny, we reduce social inequities, violence toward women and children, [as well as] increase political rights and civil liberties for all.”

All of this research weighed heavily in the subsequent ruling upholding Canada’s ban on the practice. The full judgment of the BC court can be found online, and should be required reading for any interested in this important issue.

It is also true that prevalent polygyny makes societies less stable, more violent, and more autocratic. I have written about this in my recent co-authored book, The First Political Order: How Sex Shapes Governance and National Security Worldwide. Here are some excerpts:

Polygyny produces especially unstable societies . . . Interestingly, evolutionary biologist Richard D. Alexander has posited that the first evidence of transition away from a clan-based foundation of society is the prohibition of polygyny: “It is almost as if no nation can become both quite large and quite unified except under socially imposed monogamy. . . . Socially imposed monogamy inhibits the rise of the kind of disproportionately large and powerful lineages of close relatives.” Anthropologists also have found significant correlation between polygyny and the amount of warfare in which societies engage. Satoshi Kanazawa suggests that “polygyny may be the first law of intergroup conflict (civil wars).” (FPO, 116)
Psychologist David Barash comments, “Like the energy captured in a bow that is drawn back, ready to power an arrow, polygyny generates much of the background tension that erupts into violence.”
Even ancient societies realized that polygyny could destabilize their societies. Tucker notes that in ancient Sparta every warrior was guaranteed a wife. This was done purposefully to retain the loyalty of the army, and he provocatively notes,
The Athenians were the first known urban society in which an alpha male was not allowed to take more than one wife, and was shamed if he divorced. They were also the world’s first democratic society. . . . It might not be the case that once a society establishes sexual democracy [among men] it goes on to extend political rights and become democratic. Rather it may be that once the people are given a voice through democracy, they impose monogamy on their rulers. Remember, it is low status men who resist polygamy at the top.
Barash comments that “Monogamy is therefore an equalizing and democratizing system for men . . . [it] may have emerged as a sop to men, reducing the number consigned to frustrated bachelorhood, in a kind of unspoken social bargain whereby powerful men gave up the overt perquisites of polygyny in return for obtaining a degree of social peace and harmony.” (FPO, 153).
In addition to intrasocietal grievance and conflict, this lack of resilience in polygynous cultures may manifest in more rigid, and therefore more fragile, governance systems. For example . . . in an intriguing empirical study of 186 societies, Betzig finds the correlation between despotism and polygyny to be .72, significant at the .01 level. Anthropologists Andrey Korotayev and Dmitri Bondarenko obtain similar results. One of the causal mechanisms involved is the creation of a standing pool of marginalized and disaffected young adult men, in reaction to which authoritarianism appears useful as a counterweight. As Robert Wright puts it, “Extreme polygyny often goes hand in hand with extreme political hierarchy, and reaches its zenith under the most despotic regimes.” Furthermore, societies practicing polygyny were shown by Rose McDermott and Jonathan Cowden to also demonstrate higher per capita arms expenditures and significantly lower respect for political rights and civil liberties. (FPO, 155). . . . Thus, in addition to the effects on grievance and conflict, a close relationship exists between polygyny and the type of governance to which the collective can aspire. Meaningful democracy may be out of reach for polygynous societies (FPO, 156). . . . Polygyny requires an enormous amount of stratification and inequality, backed by coercion, to remain even somewhat stable. (FPO, 157)

A society that winks at polygamy, then, is a society that cares little for its own future. Instability, violence, and autocracy are the societal fruits of that practice becoming more prevalent.

Furthermore, it is important to consider the conclusions reached by nations with significant numbers of emigres from polygynous cultures. Instead of decriminalization, virtually all European nations, as well as Canada, have refused to recognize such marriages due to the harm involved. By refusing recognition, these nations also prohibit the practice of a man periodically returning to his country of origin in order to take successive additional wives and bring them back to the destination country. For liberals in Utah, it should raise a huge red flag for Utah that even the very open-minded and progressive Canadians and Europeans reject the path of polygamy decriminalization. For conservatives in Utah, this legal move brings needless and ironic justification to otherwise scurrilous claims that the political right is becoming an “American Taliban.” [22]

The law is a powerful teacher and it could serve as a bright beacon of hope. This is most eloquently stated by Ora Barlow, a polygamy escapee from Utah, who was treated as a piece of property all her life until the law told her that those who did this to her were wrong and had committed a serious crime. [23] “As a child growing up there, I can tell you the only friend I felt like I had was the law, because when the law did take effect and the leaders were put in prison, I actually felt free,” Barlow said. Girls of 16 (the legal age of marriage in Utah with the consent of one parent) raised from birth to become polygamous wives or face hellfire will have fewer defenses than ever before. In 2017, regardless of whether Utah chose to vigorously or laxly enforce the law of that time, all Utahns knew the law was there and that it divided right from wrong, justice from injustice. In 2020, that important understanding has now been lost.

Are There Any Other Options? How About the Nordic Model for Polygamy?

Polygamy is not the only practice that is often touted as a “victimless crime,” or as a private matter between consenting adults that should be beyond the purview of government. We have seen in the above sections how wrong that perspective is: polygamy is by no means a victimless crime and it has out-sized ramifications for one’s citizens and one’s society. What policy options exist besides decriminalization?

The obvious parallels with polygamy are slavery and prostitution, both of which involve dubious consent, if there even is consent, to an interpersonal relationship that has been empirically demonstrated to be all-too-often exploitative, controlling, and harmful. Certainly those who have escaped polygamy have suggested that in most cases, women cannot truly consent to the practice, either because they have been brainwashed since they were toddlers that God’s will was that they marry polygamously a man chosen by their male leader, or because at the point of such marriage as teenagers they were forcibly married without their consent.

Decriminalization only fuels the problem of exploitation by the organized crime gangs of polygamy. Indeed, polygamy lends itself to a most pernicious form of trafficking, as the British Columbia case clearly shows, where young girls were trafficked between Utah and Canada. What if we judged (correctly) that laws against sex trafficking were just not making much of a dent against that practice, and thus decriminalizing it would be “better than doing nothing”? After all, the law sends sex traffickers and their victims “into the shadows,” as one Utah state senator said of polygamists under the 2017 law. The law also sends prostitutes and their pimps “into the shadows.” Drug dealers, too, are there, as well as those engaged in the black market for human organs. Should we consider decriminalization for these consensual lifestyle choices, as well? Every society faces cases where law enforcement is difficult and may even have unintended consequences. Sometimes a society should live with that tension for the greater good of the largest number. Criminalization is called for.

But selective criminal punishment is the best course. Consider the Nordic Model of addressing prostitution, where only pimps and johns are arrested, and prostitutes are rightly considered victims in need of support and assistance from the state. Nothing is stopping the Utah state legislature from creating a Nordic Model for polygamy, and carving out a similar categorization for victims who would be exempt from any legal punishment for stepping out of polygamy. In addition, a Nordic Model approach to polygamy would prioritize education, training, and shelter for women and their children who have escaped, as well as for the “lost boys.” This is precisely the type of approach advocated by organizations representing those who have left polygamy, many of whom have very little education and thus little chance of becoming self-sufficient once they have left. The male leaders of these polygamous groups become, in the Nordic approach, the pimps, and the men who obey these leaders and marry polygynously are akin to the johns. For the former, the penalties under the Nordic model are very stiff; for the latter, punishment coupled with education on the illegality and harms of the practice are mandated.

So, yes, there are policy options available that are clearly better than decriminalization. A Nordic Model for polygamy would retain criminalization for the “pimps” and the “johns” of polygamy, while protecting the victims, including children such as the “lost boys.” Such a model offers justice and support for the victims, and maintains the integrity of Utah law. This approach would require a determined will to enforce the law. Why was such a model not discussed by the Utah State Legislature?

I ask that question especially of the orthodox CoJC members, of which there are many, in that legislature. What were they thinking when they voted for this disastrous bill? Were they dreaming of their polygamous mansions above? Or somehow vindicating their polygamous ancestors? Did they think of themselves as heroic ark-steadiers preparing for the Second Coming? If so, let the tale of Uzzah rest heavily on their minds and hearts, and let the silence of the Church on the bill be interpreted for what it really meant. For shame! For shame!


[1] “SB174 would enact a sweeping ban of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, “substantial impairment” of the mother’s health, or if the fetus has a lethal birth defect or severe brain abnormality that would render it in a vegetative state. Any abortions performed not falling under those exceptions would be a second-degree felony.” https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/3/12/21176647/utah-house-oks-ban-on-elective-abortions-senate-must-concur-for-passage --- [Back to manuscript].

[2] Here is a recent example; I’ve compiled many of these: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7869717/Teen-murdered-pregnant-girlfriend-waited-long-abort-baby-gets-65-years.html; see also this group’s compilation: http://www.theunchoice.com/pdf/FactSheets/ForcedAbortions.pdf --- [Back to manuscript].

[3] “Polygamy is still considered a felony if the person also commits other felony offenses including criminal homicide, kidnapping, trafficking, smuggling, sexual offenses or child abuse.” https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/05/polygamy-is-about-to-be-decriminalised-in-utah-is-it-good-news-for-women Of course, that was also the status quo ante. The fact that polygamy is still an infraction, below a misdemeanor, means that Utah still remains in compliance with federal law criminalizing polygamy, but that’s like someone wearing a dress made out of transparent plastic asserting that they are fully clothed. [Back to manuscript].

[4] http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzlePolygamy.html --- [Back to manuscript].

[5] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/utah-gov-signs-law-aimed-at-polygamy/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[6] Actually, 2014 if one wishes to be technical about it, for that is when the district court ruled that laws against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. [Back to manuscript].

[7] Perhaps those on the left of the political spectrum were motivated by the desire to increase “sexual freedom.” Certainly the libertarian Libertas Institute saw it this way, wanting to get government out of the bedroom, and not only lobbied for the bill, but purportedly helped write it. (https://www.idahostatejournal.com/opinion/columns/big-love-in-utah-polygamy-s-big-return/article_7b6f299c-7cc8-591e-8698-8d65e3225b99.html) --- [Back to manuscript].

[8] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-student-manual/section-85-those-who-put-their-hands-to-steady-the-ark?lang=eng --- [Back to manuscript].

[9] https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2020/2/16/21139677/polygamy-utah-legislature-crime-bigamy-polygyny-mcdermott-british-columbia --- [Back to manuscript].

[10] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/utah-gov-signs-law-aimed-at-polygamy/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[11] http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPolygamy.html for a doctrinal examination of polygamy. [Back to manuscript].

[12] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks/weightier-matters/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[13] Furthermore, the idea that the Lord “has to” reinstitute polygamy in order to “restore all things” in the Last Days is unsupportable doctrinally: http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzlePolygamy.html and also http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPolygamy.html --- [Back to manuscript].

[14] https://kslnewsradio.com/1920352/decriminalizing-polygamy-utah/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[15] https://radiowest.kuer.org/post/decriminalizing-polygamy --- [Back to manuscript].

[16] https://kutv.com/news/local/kingstons-gave-more-than-40k-in-campaign-donations-to-reyes; also, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/11/sister-wives-utah-polygamy-ban-tlc-show-religious-freedom --- [Back to manuscript].

[17] https://wunrn.com/2016/07/polygamy-analysis-challenges-on-polygamy-in-the-uk-eu-the-west/ --- [Back to manuscript].

[18] https://radiowest.kuer.org/post/decriminalizing-polygamy --- [Back to manuscript].

[19] https://www.idahostatejournal.com/opinion/columns/big-love-in-utah-polygamy-s-big-return/article_7b6f299c-7cc8-591e-8698-8d65e3225b99.html --- [Back to manuscript].

[20] https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2020/2/16/21139677/polygamy-utah-legislature-crime-bigamy-polygyny-mcdermott-british-columbia --- [Back to manuscript].

[21] See, for example, https://www.amazon.com/Psychosocial-Impact-Polygamy-Middle-East/dp/1461493749/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=al+krenawi+polygamy&qid=1586593298&sr=8-1 --- [Back to manuscript].

[22] https://truthout.org/articles/conservatives-the-new-taliban/, for example. [Back to manuscript].

[23] https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2020/02/11/bill-decriminalize/ --- [Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2020) "Opening the Pandora’s Box of Polygamy in Utah, 2020," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 1 (Spring 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerPandoraPolygamy.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 2 Comments

I. Karen Oates

I wait anxiously to get articles from Valerie.

This doctrine of “plural marriage” still hangs over my mind as I can’t seem to ignore the Prophet is sealed polygamously as are many others as this practice is still allowed in temples. How does one ever truly find peace about this? Eternity lies ahead and this dark cloud seems to follow.

Valerie, thank you for your insightful, brilliant articles on plural marriage and issues facing women. I follow you wherever I can as your articles seem to touch the “plight” of most women around the world.

Thank you for fighting the good fight and bringing common sense with scriptural knowledge and statistics into the ongoing struggle for equality for your female sisters EVERYWHERE.


II. Kathy Bence

I agree with V.H. Cassler’s article and her lifetime of work that backs her research. Having recently moved from Southern California to Southern Utah, this is a new political issue for me and I appreciate the background and breakdown of what this change in law means.

My resume on understanding this political issue is less extensive, but I have been a member of the CoJC for many years and have lived under the confusion of trying to grasp my Church’s plural marriage doctrine. (http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBencePluralMarriage.html). Through that lens, this topic has meaning for me and I see one thing differently: the root cause of this legislation’s support.

The article stated that the Church authorities stood mute over this issue because the legislation was going to pass and they were powerless to stop it. While that may be true, the Church is not an innocent bystander in this new law. The CofJC is the majority Mormon sect—the main polygamous church, the one that no longer wants to be associated with polygamy or called LDS or Mormon (probably for fear of being confused with polygamists)—that has perpetuated the doctrine behind this legislation.

Church leaders may have felt sorrow over this legal cover for gross sin, but I feel sorrow that this gross sin is part of the historical and eternal doctrine of my Church. Emily Dickenson once said, "saying nothing sometimes says the most." By saying nothing for many years, at least nothing clear-cut, the Church has left its members in the wilderness to believe that God is behind plurality of wives.

Although we are taught that polygamy is a serious spiritual crime and are told to be monogamous (at least for now), we share with fundamentalist sects the history, doctrine, and eternal perspective of polygamy. No matter how clearly the data and V.H. Cassler’s new book show societal harm is caused by polygamy, the Church continues to teach, quietly, that our polygamy history was inspired.

The Church’s message is that fundamentalists are very different from us; however, fundamentalists are humans on earth trying to live what they believe is an eternal principle from God. That sounds strangely like the CoJC history. Like us, fundamentalists believe this principle will be eternal—D&C 132, which spells out this historical and eternal principle, is still part of our scriptures and men can be sealed to more than one woman in our temple.

The admonition of Elder Oaks to stand up for the rightchoice on abortion (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks/weightier-matters/) cannot apply to whatever the right choice is on polygamy. Even he provided an ambiguous answer on this matter in the October 2019 general conference, which reinforced the mixed feelings of members over which choice is right on the history and eternal nature of plural wives. And since Elder Oaks is sealed for eternity to two women, his belief on this matter is clear.

What’s a CoJC member to think? Or for that matter a state legislator? The law, morality and the Church becomes very muddled. Although the Utah legislature doesn’t need to defend the kingdom of God, when we elect representatives, we also don’t expect them to check their moral compass at the door. The majority of legislators, who likely are representative of the majority of Church members, believe they are following their moral compass by following the Church’s lead as they believe in and make way for inspired eternal polygamy.

As long as the Church continues to sanction D&C 132 and men are sealed to more than one woman in our temples, the legislature can feel justified in passing laws that prepare the way for the restoration of polygamy in the last days, providing a greater sense of entitlement among CoJC men raised in the old Mormon mindset, and opening the Pandora’s box of polygamy in Utah.