Polygamy drawing scrutiny

Ariz., Utah officials to discuss issues

The Arizona Republic/August 22, 2003
By Mark Shaffer

As law enforcement officials and legislators from Arizona, Utah and Canada gather in St. George, Utah, today for a summit on polygamy, proponents of multiple marriage are facing their worst crisis since the state of Arizona raided the enclave of Short Creek, now Colorado City, 50 years ago.


"A former Colorado City policeman, Rodney Holm, was convicted in Utah district court last week of unlawful sexual contact and bigamy. He wed his third wife, who was 16 at the time, in 1998.

"Support groups for underage victims of polygamy say that about two dozen female teenagers have fled Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, during the past eight months.

"A group called the Citizens' Coalition to Protect the Children formed in Mohave County earlier this summer and is well on its way toward acquiring 5,000 signatures on petitions. Its goal is to try to prod the state to enforce its child-abuse laws in the town of about 4,000 located on the isolated Arizona Strip.

"Newcomers to St. George, a rapidly growing regional center in southwestern Utah, have set up an extensive social service network to help young women who have left polygamist households start new lives.

Buster Johnson, a Mohave County supervisor whose district includes Colorado City, said he wants to see law enforcement agencies "put an end to this mess once and for all,"referring to allegations of numerous underage teenage girls being forced into marriage with much older polygamist patriarchs.

"Maybe federal agents are going to have to go and knock on every door, collect birth certificates and do DNA testing,"Johnson said. "But we've got to get to the bottom of this situation."

State Sen. Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, another vocal critic of polygamy, said there also are other considerations in play.

"There's enough abuse of government services like welfare fraud up there to cure the budget deficit. For every $1.14 we get from up there, we deliver $8 in services,"Binder said.

"I couldn't care less what consenting adults do with their lives in Colorado City. But we've got to stop the abuse of the children and women."

Polygamy publicized

The issue of polygamy has been in the spotlight in recent years because of the nationally publicized trial and conviction for child rape of polygamist Tom Green, the attention that anti-polygamist groups drew during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and a recent best- selling book, Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer.

But Rodney Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents the polygamist groups in Colorado City, Hildale and Bountiful, British Columbia, said that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are getting a bum rap.

In a letter sent Thursday to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Parker wrote that the young women are not forced into marriage.

"They enter those relationships voluntarily with the consent of their parents and extended family. . . . Although their model of marriage by revelation runs counter to traditional notions of romantic love and marriage, the model works for them because they have confidence in it,"Parker wrote.

'Summit' a misnomer

Parker also wrote that the "polygamy summit"could hardly be classified as a summit since polygamists weren't invited to participate and that it "reinforces the mistrust and fear that has been the hallmark of the state's relationship with the polygamists for the past 100 years."

The Utah Attorneys General's Office further enflamed that relationship with its aggressive prosecution of Holm. Utah law prohibits sex between a minor and a person 10 or more years older.

Ruth Stubbs testified during the trial that her marriage to Holm had been ordained by Rulon Jeffs, the former prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the polygamist sect that lives in Colorado City and Hildale.

Using birth certificates, the prosecution was able to show that Stubbs conceived two children before turning 18.

Common situations

Flora Jessop, a Valley anti-polygamy activist who was reared in Colorado City, said such arrangements are commonplace in Colorado City and Hildale.

"You see that in virtually every household. There's been two dozen girls who have fled that in the last six to eight months," Jessop said.

Marty Casper, who heads the non-profit Dove Center in St. George, said the organization is finding nearby people concerned about their plight.

"There's a really big movement here locally to change all of this. A lot of new people in this area are saying that they can't believe that this is tolerated, "Casper said.

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