By Kent Larsen
Utah Marriage Bill Would Snare Parents, Gays
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- A bill approved Wednesday by the Utah State
Senate would make it a felony for parents or others to allow or
arrange for the marriage of girls younger than the legal age. The
measure, aimed at polygamous marriages involving girls as young as 12
or 13, would put offenders in prison for as much as five years. But
some of the bill's support comes because it would also incriminate
ministers or anyone else performing an illegal marriage in Utah,
including those involving gay couples.
The bill is sponsored by state Senator Ron Allen, a Stansbury Park,
Utah Democrat whose aim was simply to stop the marriage of underage
children. He says that these marriages essentially allow the
commission of a crime. "What these people are doing is not just
performing an illegal marriage," Allen said. "They are aiding and
abetting child abuse."
In a Monday hearing before the Utah Senate Judiciary Committee, an
18-year-old girl, Sarah Cooke, testified that sheran away from her
family at age 16 to avoid a polygamous marriage to a 45-year-old man
required in their polygamous community. With support from the
anti-polygamy group Tapestry of Polygamy, supporters of the
legislation made the case made the case that parents of these young
girls need to be held accountable for allowing underage marriages.
But also testifying Monday was a member of the reclusive Kingston
clan, who claimed that the bill would unfairly single out his group
because of their beliefs. "We try to be an asset to the community,
and we really feel like we haven't had our constitutional rights,"
Elden Kingston said. "I don't feel like this is a problem in our
community. I don't think it would affect us at all. But I think it
will cost a lot of money to
investigate." The current round of anti-polygamy legislation came in
response to a case of a 16-year-old girl in the Kingston clan who ran
away after being married to her uncle.
But debate in the full Senate on Wednesday added a change to the bill
that significantly broadened its scope, against the wishes of its
sponsor. Republican conservatives in the Senate successfully amended
the bill to include anyone performing illegal marriages in Utah. "Why
don't we just blanketly include everyone who performs an unlawful
marriage?" asked Senate Majority Leader Steve Poulton, R-Holladay. In
the debate, Allen admitted that as drafted the measure would also
apply to those conducting gay commitment ceremonies.
Now the revelation has attracted the attention of gay advocates and
civil libertarians in Utah, who pledge to continue the marriages. The
Rev. Silvia Behrend of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City
told the Salt Lake Tribune that her church would continue to conduct
such marriages, and the ACLU's Stephen Clark questioned whether the
legislation couldn't even be used against LDS Church members teaching
from the Doctrine and Covenants. "As I read that it makes it a
third-degree felony for a parent to teach D&C Section 132 [which
contains teachings on polygamy]," Clark said. "It's . . . criminal
for parents, as a matter of their deeply held religious belief, to
teach their children that polygamy is a divine requirement."
But BYU family-law professor Lynn Wardle argues that prosecution
under the proposed law would depend mainly on the partners' frame of
mind. "If they want to believe that they are married, say two gay men
or two lesbians, the law doesn't attempt to interfere with their
religious belief," Wardle says. "If they hold it out as a legal
marriage or claim some sort of legal benefit, that's when they are in
Runaway Urges Utah to Pass Bill to Fight Abuses Common in Polygamy
Los Angeles Times 6Feb01 T5
Religion: Legislation would make it a felony to arrange or perform a marriage involving a girl not of legal age.
Anti-Polygamy Bill May Affect Gay Unions
Salt Lake Tribune 8Feb01 T5
By Greg Burton and Dan Harrie: Salt Lake Tribune