By Kent Larsen
Green Trial Leads To Review Of Polygamy Prosecution
NEPHI, UTAH -- The upcoming prosecution of polygamist Tom Green has
led to a review of polygamy prosecution in an Arizona Republic
article picked up through the Associated Press. At stake in the trial
is not just Green's freedom, but also the attitude of prosecutors to
the crime and maybe even the legal status of polygamy.
Juab County Attorney David Leavitt, brother of Utah Governor Mike
Leavitt, filed charges against Green earlier this year, after Green
and his family appeared on national television shows defending the
practice. Newsmedia had taken an interest in the practice in the wake
of the widely-publicized child abuse trial of two members of the
Kingston polygamy clan last year.
Green is charged with four counts of bigamy (believed to be the first
brought since the 1950s), one count of criminal non-support and one
count of child rape. The criminal non-support charges arise because
Green's family has collected $50,000 in welfare from the state, while
the child rape case arises because Green allegedly consumated his
marriage to his wife Linda when she was 13. But while the other
charges are serious, it is the bigamy charges that bring the most
Green claims that he has a right to practice his religion the way he
believes he should. And prosecutor Leavitt says he initially agreed.
"I just thought, 'Let 'em do what they want. They're practicing their
religion.' But I've seen a different side to them now," said Leavitt.
"Tom Green at first blush appeared to be someone that no one should
bother. But this is a man who has taken 13- and 14-year-old children,
deprived them of any education, married them, impregnated them,
required the state to pay the bill and has raped a 13-year-old girl.
If we can't prosecute for conduct like Tom Green's, we have no
business prosecuting crime."
Since the 1950s, prosecutors in Utah have claimed that bigamy could
not be prosecuted because they couldn't prove it in court. The only
witnesses to the crime were family members, who were simply
uncooperative. But Leavitt says that this isn't true, "The reality is
it's not vague. It can be proven." And should he win on the bigamy
charges, Leavitt may open the door to other prosecutors taking on
That would please the anti-polygamy group, Tapestry of Polygamy,
which was formed to support the victims of the crime. Since it was
founded in 1997, the group has helped more than 300 women and
children, and has lobbied for tougher laws. It recently saw some
success in lobbying the Utah legislature to raise the marriage age
from 14 to 16. To prove their point to the legislature, the group
brought young girls in bridal gowns to the state Capitol.
But Leavitt's prosecution could also open the door to a US Supreme
Court review of its 1879 decision that anti-bigamy laws were
constitutional. In that case, Reynolds v. United States, which
involved Brigham Young's personal secretary, the court ruled that
while religious beliefs couldn't be restricted, the behavior of
citizens could be restricted. But more recent decisions have seemed
to contradict that finding. In a 1972 case allowing Amish children
out of school because of their religious beliefs, a dissenting
justice said that the case would eventually lead to Reynolds v.
United States being overturned.
The ACLU's Utah chapter claims that anti-polygamy laws violate the
right to privacy. They also point to anti-sodomy laws, which have
been found unconstitutional in some states. University of Utah
constitutional law professor Edwin Firmage asks, "What's the
difference between polygamy and gay and lesbian rights to love each
other as human beings?"
But Tapestry of Polygamy sees a big difference. "This isn't about
consensual sex between adults. This is about children who have no
choice," says Tapestry spokeswoman Vicky Prunty. "Someday people will
wake up to this issue and realize it's abuse in the guise of
religion. When they see the abuses, they will be that much more apt
Trial nears for Utah polygamist
(Phoenix) AZ Republic (AP) 24Nov00 N5
Case shows that practice is crumbling