SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH-The Utah State House debated a proposed anti-polygamy law on Thursday before rejecting it, saying that the bill singles out polygamists. Legislators said that the state of Utah shouldn't discriminate against polygamists.
Representative Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, sponsored the legislation, which would have provided the Utah Attorney General's office with $200,000 to fight crimes common among polygamous groups, including incest, sexual abuse, welfare and tax fraud and failure to pay child support. The bill would also have provided for a special prosecutor to fight these crimes. But most Utah legislators were uncomfortable with the legislation, saying that it singled out polygamists. "I don't agree with (the polygamist) lifestyle," said Rep. Marlon Snow, R-Orem. Snow says he has employed 60-70 polygamists in his construction firm, and found them trustworthy. "They never ask for anything," he said.
But sponsor Bigelow tried to distance his bill from its image as an attack on polygamy, "This is not about prosecuting polygamy," he said. He said that some people in polygamist communities are particularly vulnerable, and the Attorney General doesn't have the resources to help them. He said the bill could be used in other cases where there is a tendency to abuse children and commit welfare fraud. But Bigelow admits he doesn't know of other groups that do this.
The issue came to light in early 1998 with the arrest of David Ortel Kingston, who was found guilty in June of two charges of incest with his niece. Kingston was married to the 16-year-old girl under the polygamous Kingston clan's customs. The girl's father (and David Kingston's brother) plead no-contest to third-degree felony child abuse for belt-whipping the girl when she fled her 'marriage.'
But legislators hesitate because of the black-eye polygamy prosecution received in the 1950s because of the infamous 'Short Creek Raid.' In the raid, Utah and Arizona lawmen descended on the Short Creek community that straddled the Utah-Arizona border, arresting nearly all men in t he community and putting all the children into the Arizona foster care system. The raid received widespread criticism for breaking up families.
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