Utah prosecutes husband with 5 wives in polygamy trial

Four counts of bigamy: Father of 26 married and impregnated stepdaughter, 13

National Post/May 11, 2001
By Jan Cienski

Salt Lake City - After more than four decades of ignoring the thousands of polygamists living in its midst, Utah is preparing to prosecute Tom Green, the proud husband of five women and father of 26 children.

Mr. Green goes on trial next week, facing four charges of bigamy. Each charge is a felony punishable by five years in prison. Later this year, he will be back in court, charged with statutory rape for marrying and impregnating Linda Kunz, who was 13 and his stepdaughter at the time. Ms. Kunz remains married to Mr. Green, and, at 28, has become his senior wife. Mr. Green has been divorced five times. He once married a woman and both her daughters.

Mr. Green, 52, a beefy man whose red beard is flecked with grey, is unrepentant. He says he is simply fulfilling God's will, returning to the old and true ways of Mormonism abandoned by his co-religionists. "Plural marriage is not incidental to Mormonism, it is fundamental," he proclaimed. "It's a very Biblical doctrine. In the Old Testament, all the people who were on intimate terms with God were polygamists."

While polygamy is illegal in Utah, multiple marriages are the state's worst-kept secret. According to Tapestry Against Polygamy, an anti-polygamy group, there are between 50,000 and 80,000 people living in multiple-marriage households in Utah, with smaller numbers scattered about other western states and Canada. Utah's and Mormonism's ambiguity over polygamy has deep roots.

The Church's founder, Joseph Smith, took as many as 60 wives, and his successor, Brigham Young, who colonized Utah, had about 27. Polygamy was abandoned as a condition of Utah becoming a state and has been banned since 1890 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the mainstream Mormon Church prefers to be called.

The Church excommunicates advocates of polygamy such as Mr. Green. But almost every Mormon-born family has polygamist ancestors, including Mr. Green's prosecutor, David Leavitt. Unlike Mr. Green, who has become the country's most visible advocate of multiple marriage, other polygamists shun publicity and are left alone.

One prominent Salt Lake City lawyer has 30 wives but never makes the news. Two large fundamentalist Mormon sects living on the Utah-Arizona border recently pulled all their children out of the local school, forcing it to close, as a way of keeping their young people from being defiled by contact with Gentiles, as non-Mormons are called.

Mr. Green, who lives in a cluster of trailers on a windswept patch of desert about 350 kilometres west of Salt Lake City, says he is being prosecuted because he refused to shut up about his lifestyle. "I'm not being prosecuted because I'm a polygamist. I'm being prosecuted because I'm standing up and defending it," he said at a recent finger-wagging news conference as Ms. Kunz stood nearby, smiling beatifically.

Mr. Green says he is being singled out in a witch hunt because Utah wants to show it is serious about polygamy before the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics next year. Nonsense, say state prosecutors and a state senator who helped draft a law making it a felony to allow a minor to marry.

"I don't think the heinous crime of sleeping with a minor has anything to do with the Olympics," scoffed Senator Ron Allen. Mr. Green paints an idyllic portrait of life with his five wives and two dozen children, all supported by government aid and his magazine subscription business. The wives have a schedule for who does the cleaning, who cooks and who gets to spend the night in their husband's trailer. "They get along like sisters," he said jovially. "Sometimes when they are new into the family there are feelings of jealousy until they see their husband loves them, just as an older child does when parents bring in a younger child."

Ms. Kunz is also enthusiastic about the arrangement. She and Mr. Green were married in 1986 in Mexico, which Mr. Green contends allows marriage to 13-year-olds. "I like the lifestyle, the sisterhood and friendships we have," said the pretty woman dressed in a demure, blue plaid skirt. "We have someone to help us raise our children. We see ourselves as one family unit."

But others paint a much less rosy picture of Mr. Green's domestic arrangement in particular and of polygamy in general. Mr. Green's five divorces include Ms. Kunz's mother, Beth Cook. Another was a girl of 14, who left him after their joint appearance on the Jerry Springer Show. Then there is Allison Ryan, who met him when she was 16, is now divorced and plans to testify against him at next week's trial.

"I've watched him portray polygamy as this wonderful little practice," Ms. Ryan told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It's not true. He molested me before we were married." Vicky Prunty, director of Tapestry, a group made up mostly of former wives in multiple marriages, said: "On the outside it looks very nice. Often these families are considered healthy, hardworking families. But we're talking about statutory rape and incest and arranged marriage, things you would expect to happen only in the Third World."

Her group has slowly shifted public opinion in Utah over polygamy. But a widespread crackdown is unlikely. While authorities are determined to arrest people who marry young girls, polygamists who keep a low profile and who stick to marrying adults are unlikely to be bothered. "In any civilized society, you see an increasing unwillingness of governments to be critical of adults," Senator Allen said. "The main concern of my law is minors. I'm just not that interested in prosecuting consenting adults."

Meanwhile, Mr. Green says he has no regrets about speaking up about his multiple marriages, even if it costs him his freedom. "I wouldn't dare defy my beliefs before God and posterity," he said. "Better for me to sit in prison for my beliefs than to cower and make a deal as the state has been tempting me to do.

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