U student advocates polygamist lifestyle

The Daily Utah Chronicle/September 6, 2006
By Shawn Mansell

Trying to blend in with her classmates, Mary Batchelor, co-founder of Principle Voices-a polygamist advocacy group-hoped for anonymity.

"I was going to go be a college student and really enjoy myself," she said.

But after numerous interviews with major news outlets such as The New York Times and Fox News Channel regarding the HBO show "Big Love," the senior in speech communication's lifestyle was out in class.

The mission of her advocacy group is to balance a warped media picture of polygamy and bring about the decriminalization of the practice.

"We often tell people that what you see in the media is like sitting in an emergency room and seeing all the traffic accidents and the horrible things that come in," Batchelor said. "Healthier polygamists are less likely to be portrayed in the news."

She is a fan of the HBO show and watches it each week with her children, but she screens it first.

Batchelor created PV in response to numerous needs-mainly the result of government actions.

"For government to make decisions about our people without knowing anything about us is ignorance," she said.

Batchelor took her first steps toward advocacy by compiling essays written by women who are involved in the practice of polygamy and publishing them in the book Voices in Harmony.

"We felt it was really important to hear this side," she said.

With the exception of Batchelor and her co-editors, the essays were written anonymously.

"It was a huge shift for us because we were very private about our lifestyles," she said.

Batchelor's parents did not practice polygamy, but were LDS with "fundamentalist" beliefs, she said.

"None of my friends were from polygamist families," Batchelor said. "The idea of marrying into polygamy wasn't familiar to me."

The decision to practice polygamy came while Batchelor attended Southern Utah University-formally known as Southern Utah State College. She grappled with questions of religious doctrine. While studying LDS scripture and academic material and praying for guidance, Batchelor said, she found answers.

"I received my own personal witness that plural marriage was true for me and that it was still acceptable to God today," she said.

Although she no longer practices polygamy, Batchelor was an independent polygamist for three years with her current husband, Gary. She has been married for 17 years.

Her advocacy work has taken her as far as British Columbia, working with several different religious groups that practice or support polygamy. However, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, led by Warren Jeffs, has rebuffed Principle Voice's offer to work together at various times. Batchelor says she is hoping they will be able to collaborate with the group soon.

While her experience with polygamy has been positive, Batchelor said she knows there are problems within the community.

She said many of the religious groups she has worked with have made progress. Some have agreed to encourage females to wait until they are 18 to enter into a plural marriage.

Batchelor is close to completing her degree and has taken this semester off to care for one of her seven children, who has a severe heart defect.

Danielle Endres, an assistant professor of communication, said Batchelor excelled in her Theories of Argument class.

"She was always really involved in the class conversations," Endres said.

After graduation, Batchelor wants to take her specialized education in conflict resolution and work in the non-profit sector. She said she has also thought about attending law school.

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