polygamy bans is tricky |
By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake
No matter where they've settled in North
America, believers in plural marriage never have found respite
from laws against polygamy.
able to gain statehood only after The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice in 1890, and
the state Constitution expressly forbids polygamy.
State bigamy laws also encompass
polygamy, and a person doesn't have to be legally married to
be subject to prosecution for taking another spouse. Living
together as husband and wife is enough.
years, Utah prosecutors have brought charges of bigamy and
sexual conduct with a minor against several men who have
entered into "spiritual" -- read polygamous -- marriages.
A bigamy charge can be brought even if
the spiritual wife is an adult. And marrying a girl under 18
can add a sex offense to any charges.
Utah requires parental consent for a
legal marriage to a minor age 16 or 17, plus a judge's consent
if the minor is 15. Even with the parents' OK, a spiritual
union is not a legal marriage and sexual relations with the
underage partner still are against the law.
Arizona has no specific laws against
polygamy, but its constitution also bans it, and now
legislators are considering outlawing child bigamy, thus
targeting men who take underage brides. Canadian law bans
bigamy and polygamy. Going through a "form of marriage," even
a rite not recognized as a binding form of wedlock, will make
an already married participant a bigamist or polygamist.
Traveling to other countries to enter into a bigamous union
won't give Canadian citizens any leeway -- that's also
But prosecutors can find
themselves in a quandary. Vaughn Marshall, a Canadian lawyer
who represents former plural wives, said polygamists have
invoked religious-freedom claims under the country's Charter
of Rights to defend themselves.
recognizes only civil marriage, said Jorge A. Vargas, a
professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. The
custom in that country is to first participate in a civil
marriage, which includes a contract and is permitted by law
only between a man and a woman, and then a religious ceremony
the next day.
Besides being a ground
for divorce, polygamy is punishable by jail time and a fine,
the professor said.
"Mexico is not
going to be a haven to introduce practices that go contrary to
the values and morality of Mexican people," Vargas said.