The Utah state Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to effectively decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults, approving a bill to reduce the penalty for plural marriage from a felony to an infraction on par with a traffic ticket.
The Republican-sponsored bill easing the law on polygamy, a practice with deep religious roots in the predominantly Mormon Western state, now moves to the Utah House of Representatives, where it is likely to face greater resistance.
Under current law, the practice of polygamy in Utah – typically involving a man who cohabitates with and purports to marry more than one wife – is treated as a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
If the newly passed Senate bill becomes law, punishments for plural marriage would be limited to fines of up to US$750 and community service. No jail time could be imposed.
The chief sponsor of the measure, Senator Diedre Henderson, said the intent of the bill is not to legalize polygamy but to lower the penalties so that those from polygamous communities who are victims of crimes can come forward without fear of being prosecuted themselves.
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