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March 14, 2004
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Enforcing polygamy bans is tricky


By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune


    No matter where they've settled in North America, believers in plural marriage never have found respite from laws against polygamy.
    Utah was 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.
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    In recent 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 illegal.
    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.
    Mexico 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.
    pmanson@sltrib.com
   
   

Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.
All material found on Utah Online is copyrighted The Salt Lake Tribune and associated news services. No material may be reproduced or reused without explicit permission from The Salt Lake Tribune.


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