SALT LAKE CITY — A bill has been introduced in the Utah State Legislature that would essentially decriminalize polygamy in the state, following a federal judge’s ruling that had the same effect.
HB 58, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, would strike the cohabitation portion of Utah’s bigamy statute, a line that has been used to prosecute polygamists in the past.
In an interview with FOX 13 News, Anderson said his bill would help address issues in polygamous communities by allowing people to feel free to come forward.
“To relieve our attorney general and all of our law enforcement, I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Besides being in line with the First Amendment religious liberty.”
Anderson’s bill comes after a federal judge ruled last month that part of Utah’s bigamy statute is unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in favor of reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives, who sued Utah over its ban on plural marriage on religious freedom and privacy grounds.
“I think it’s a good bill to get in line with the reality of what’s going on,” Anderson said of Waddoups’ ruling.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday it was aware of Anderson’s bigamy bill, but had no comment on it. Attorney General Sean Reyes told FOX 13 in an interview last month he intended to appeal the polygamy ruling, but his office said it was still deciding whether to formally appeal.
Polygamist Joe Darger, who lives in Utah with his three wives, said he was happy to see such a bill introduced in the legislature.
“The intent of what he’s trying to accomplish, I absolutely am behind,” he told FOX 13 News. “We should not legislate morality.”
During last year’s legislative session, Darger and his wives lobbied lawmakers for a similar bill. Judge Waddoups’ ruling, Darger believes, gave it a boost. Looking over the bill’s language, Darger said he would like to see the language dealing with “purporting to marry” clarified further.
“If I called my wives mistresses, it was OK,” he said. “But if I called them wives, then I was somehow a criminal? That made me a polygamist criminal.”
Anti-polygamy activists expressed concerns about the bill.
“We haven’t addressed the problems within polygamy,” Kristyn Decker of the Sound Choices Coalition told FOX 13 News. “The harms to women and children, the harms to society.”