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For week ended September 12, 1999 Posted 19 Sep 1999

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Attorneys clash on the legality of polygamy

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Attorneys clash on the legality of polygamy
Casper WY Tribune (AP) 9Sep99 L7
Attorneys clash on the legality of polygamy

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- An American Civil Liberties Union's lawyer says prohibitions against consensual plural marriage are likely unconstitutional. "The ACLU believes that informed, voluntary, consensual relations between adults should be free from governmental intrusion," said Stephen Clark, legal director for the ACLU of Utah.

Elizabeth Joseph, a news director for two Arizona Strip radio stations, has also backed Clark's position. Though the family head has recently died of cancer, she is one of eight wives in a polygamous family who altogether have 20 children, 10 of who are gown and have successful monogamous marriages.

Joseph's defends the practice of polygamy, despite the well-publicized incidents of coercion and abuse in some polygamist families, such as Utah's Kingston clan. "I can see there's been a lot of coercion. I applaud the Kingston prosecutions, I really do," she said. "But to go after polygamy itself - it's not right."

Lynn Wardle, a Brigham Young University law professor, and Camille Williams of BYU's School of Family Life disagreed with both the legal and social assertions made by Joseph and the ACLU. They say that polygamy is "fraught with dangers" to vulnerable young women and their offspring, including sexual abuse, domestic violence, incest and other forms of exploitation, and that the government has a legitimate interest in its prohibition.

Wardle also said that societies have an interest in promoting certain kinds of marriage unions and discouraging others because married couples are offered certain benefits in society and "the state ends up picking up the pieces when unions dissolve."

However, Wardle did conceded that prosecuting polygamy itself is difficult in a society that does not prosecute other types of unmarried cohabitation, but he supported going after "collateral crimes" - such as welfare fraud and child abuse.

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