Shurtleff to hold new meeting polygamy, but leading anti-polygamy group says no thanks

Casper Star-Tribune/November 19, 2003
By Christopher Clark

Salt Lake City -- A leading anti-polygamy group is rejecting an invitation to attend Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's planned meeting on abuse victims after learning that he also invited a representative of the pro-polygamy community.

No date has been set for the gathering, which Shurtleff's spokesman billed as an attempt to find ways to link abuse victims from polygamous communities with government and social-service help, such as shelters.

The pullout by Tapestry Against Polygamy was announced in a tough-worded news release Tuesday that likened Shurtleff's invitation to asking sexual assaulters to help create a rape crisis center.

And it appeared to deal a small setback to Shurtleff's plan to include polygamists in the effort to match social-service assistance with polygamy abuse victims who feel trapped in their historically cloistered communities.

Shurtleff spokesman Paul Murphy said he had just started calling on numerous government and social services agencies and advocacy groups to see who could attend when he learned that Tapestry wouldn't be among them.

''We won't attend because we do not want our needs, or the needs of the refugees of polygamy, to be minimized,'' said Vicky Prunty, Tapestry's executive director.

In the news release - headlined ''TAPESTRY FLEES ATTORNEY GENERAL AS HE SEEKS ANOTHER WIFE'' - Prunty said involving a polygamy supporter ''in a meeting to discuss resources for individuals leaving or contemplating leaving polygamy is a conflict of interest and shows an unusual disregard towards the victims of polygamy.''

Later in the release, Tapestry co-founder Rowenna Erickson said Shurtleff's invitation to a polygamy supporter ''would be similar to trying to create a rape crisis center and inviting both the rapists and their victims to attend. Trying to come to a solution with the perpetrator or their wives is unrealistic.''

But including polygamy insiders is seen by many as key to conveying the government's intentions to a group of deeply religious people inherently suspicious of the state's motives.

Shurtleff's office invited Anne Wilde, a polygamy writer who co-authored the book, ''Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage.'' Wilde has often said that despite her support of polygamy, she also backs any effort to expose abuse in polygamous relationships.

Wilde said she was impressed by Shurtleff's ''sincere'' overtures, and said the appeal made sense.

''We can't put aside our differences and meet around a table with a sincere desire to stop abuse?'' asked Wilde.

But it appeared late Tuesday that Tapestry's pullout likely means neither it nor Wilde will have a seat at the initial meetings, Murphy said.

''They (Tapestry) are trying to set the agenda, and what we are trying to do is bring together as many people as possible,'' Murphy said.

Regardless of when or if Wilde joins in, the invitation underscores Shurtleff's recent outreach to polygamous communities with a history of battling the government over plural marriage.

In August, Shurtleff and other representatives from law enforcement and social service agencies from Utah and Arizona held a summit in St. George to discuss how to prevent child abuse, how to fight fraud and how agencies can assist people in polygamous communities.

Polygamy supporters were outraged that they were excluded from the gathering. So in September, Shurtleff and the Arizona attorney general took a two-day tour of Centennial Park, a polygamist enclave just south of Hildale and Colorado City. Both attorneys general said the event helped open communication and dispel suspicions that get in the way of providing services to people in those towns.

Polygamy is among the teachings of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith. But the practice was abandoned by the church more than a century ago as the territory sought statehood. The Utah Constitution bans it and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now excommunicates those who advocate it, but it is believed that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice.

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