Green Conviction Makes Polygamous Clans Wary

Salt Lake Tribune/May 20, 2001
By Bob Mims

Cedar City -- The conviction of polygamist Tom Green on bigamy charges could make an estimated 30,000 Utahns in plural marriages less likely to trust law enforcement with reports of domestic or child abuse, three polygamous wives warn.

Green, who has 29 children and five current wives (he has had 10 wives in total), was convicted late Friday on four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport. When sentenced June 27 in Provo's 4th District Court, he could receive a total of 25 years in prison.

News of the conviction was sending chilling ripples through Utah's polygamist communities Saturday when the subject came up for a panel discussion during the Mormon History Association convention at Southern Utah State University.

"We're disappointed with the bigamy convictions. It sets a precedent," said Mary Batchelor, who said she had lived three years in a plural marriage. "The possibility now exists" for prosecution of other men practicing polygamy.

"This could make it less likely that [child abuse] complaints will come forward," Batchelor added, noting that polygamous families will fear exposure of their fathers to bigamy prosecutions.

"Charging a polygamist with bigamy puts all polygamists at risk," she said.

Batchelor and fellow panelists Anne Wilde and Marianne Watson co-authored Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage. The book, published last year, contains dozens of testimonials from women who say they are happy in polygamy.

None of the three women agreed with how Green practiced his particular brand of plural marriage -- which prosecutors alleged included sexual relations with underage brides -- but they expressed compassion for the fate of his family.

Wilde, who called Green a friend, tearfully urged the audience of more than 100 to "consider him as a man . . . a father and a husband who in his own way tried to do what he thought was right. He has these wives and all these children," she said.

The three women also assailed the news media, saying recent coverage of polygamy in general and the Green case in particular unfairly lumped all poly- gamists together.

Actually, half of those in plural marriages in Utah are independent of organized sects. Even among the larger established groups, doctrines and practices vary.

While many polygamists refer to themselves as "Fundamentalist Mormons," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints flatly denounces the practice today.

Indeed, plural marriage has been an offense warranting excommunication since 1890 when the LDS Church outlawed the practice once embraced by church founder Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others.

Less misinformation and more understanding are needed if Utah is to avoid returning to the kind of anti-polygamy sentiments that led to raids on plural marriage settlements in the 1940s and 1950s, when fathers were jailed and families broken up, the women said.

"We believe there needs to be an open dialogue between our people and the rest of society, between our people and the state," Batchelor said.

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