Regional News: Bill To Decriminalize Polygamy Earns Unanimous Approval From Utah Senate Committee

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, listens to comment at the first public hearing for SB102, which would make polygamy between consenting adults an infraction (punishable by a ticket but no arrest or jail time) instead of a felony, on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. At right speaking in favor of the bill is Jessica Christensen of Hope After Polygamy and at left, preparing to speak against the bill, is Tonia Tewell of Holding Out Help
/Trent Nelson /The Salt Lake Tribune

By Benjamin Wood | The Salt Lake Tribune

Growing up in Colorado City, Ariz., Shirlee Draper was taught never to speak to anyone in law enforcement, because they were not her friends.

Her father and other adults would talk about being dragged out from under their beds during raids of polygamous communities, she said, fueling an “intense fear of outsiders.”

“All of them were kidnappers,” Draper said, “because we knew that was a fate we could suffer.”

Draper shared her story Monday with members of the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, which voted unanimously to endorse a bill that would effectively decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults.

She testified alongside the bill’s sponsor, Spanish Fork Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson, who argued to her Senate colleagues that the state’s current law classifying polygamy as a felony is unenforceable absent other crimes.

And rather than eliminate polygamy, Henderson said, the state’s laws have created “a full-blown human rights crisis” in which victims of abuse and fraud are afraid to come forward, and in which otherwise law-abiding citizens are labeled as criminals.

“The people that I have spoken with long to feel part of society,” Henderson said. “They are tired of being treated like second-class citizens. They feel like Utah has legalized prejudice against them. They want to be honest people, but feel like they have to lie or teach their children to lie about their families in order to stay safe.


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