A proposed bill that would toughen the state’s bigamy laws brought pro- and anti-polygamy rallies to the Capitol on Friday.
Julie Adkison was 19 years old when she left the well-known Kingston polygamist group. She said the abuses she witnessed while living in a plural marriage were dismissed as “normal.”
“It was normal to walk through church and see infants being hit because they believed that a 6-month-old should be able to sit still and quiet for the service,” she said, her voice cracking. “It was normal to be playing with a friend and have their father stand up at the top of the hill and call them home, and I remember tensing up because I knew they were going home to be beat.”
Adkison was joined by several other former polygamist women on Friday to speak out in support of a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Noel that would make bigamy a second degree felony when coupled with other serious offenses like child or sex abuse.
He said these groups have been hiding abuse behind the banner of religious freedom for too long.
“It really bothers me that they basically hijack my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s religion and say ‘We’re Mormon.’ But you’re not, you’re an apostate group and you need to recognize that,” said Noel.
Bigamy is already a felony in Utah, but a federal court struck down part of the statute in 2013 after a challenge by the stars of the “Sister Wives” reality TV show. An appeals court later reinstated the statute, but Noel says this new wording could prevent further costly legal battles.
Outside the Capitol, about 200 polygamist supporters, including reality TV star Kody Brown and his wives, marched under a steady drizzle holding signs and chanting “families, not felons.”
San Juan County resident Enoch Foster brought his two wives, Lillian and Catrina, and fiancée Lydia, to the Capitol to defend what he said was his family's religious liberty.
“Why is it that consenting adults that choose plural marriage do not receive equal treatment under the law? Why?” he asked.
The bill, H.B. 99, passed out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this week and will next head to the floor of the House for a vote.