This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Or, as old Tom might have said if he had lived in 19th century Utah instead of 18th century Virginia, it does no injury for our neighbor to have 20 wives, or no wife.
Except when it does.
Sadly, Utah's powers that be are busying themselves with a pointless feud over whether the agreement of an adult man and two or more adult women to consider themselves married should be a crime, how serious a crime, and how to word such a law to survive judicial scrutiny.
So it is left to others, primarily the federal government, to address the real problems that are too often associated with polygamist lifestyles as they are sometimes practiced in our state, including the abuse of children and large-scale fraud against the American taxpayer.
Lawyers and legislators squabble in Salt Lake City. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes participates in anti-trafficking stings in South America and stakes out the Sundance Film Festival in Park City. But nobody in Utah state government seems to be doing anything about ongoing allegations of horrific abuse of children in this state.
Polygamy or, as it is often called in statute books, bigamy is prohibited in the Utah Constitution and was, until 2013, a violation of state law. That's when U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups voided the statutory prohibition.
Waddoups held that the part of the law that banned mere cohabitation, whether or not those involved claimed to be married under some set of religious beliefs, was state overreach into private affairs.
But none of that matters as much as the actions, going on far from the state capitol and pushed along by an ad hoc coalition of federal and local law enforcement agencies, finally moving against the leaders of one religious sect that happens to practice polygamy but is accused of doing things far, far worse.
A federal court jury in Phoenix ruled Monday that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has run the governments in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, in such a discriminatory way that non-members were denied basic public services.
Of much greater concern are the long-standing allegations that leaders of the FLDS, and perhaps other secretive sects, routinely force young girls into sexual relationships, which cannot be recognized as legal marriages no matter how many or how few people are involved, and expel young boys from their homes and communities.
Also last month, federal agencies raided offices associated with another polygamist group, the Kingston family, presumably as part of an investigation of whether the clan's Washakie Renewable Energy has been cheating on a program that offers tax credits for creating fuels out of renewable sources.
Some members of that group have been convicted and served time, on Utah state charges, for abusive treatment of their own children, related to the family's belief that underage women should be forced to marry older relatives.
That history wasn't enough to frighten Reyes away from accepting some $51,000 in campaign contributions from members of the Kingston Group. The recent federal raids, though, shamed the attorney general into putting that money in escrow while the investigation goes on, perhaps to be returned or given to charity.
The federal agencies are moving on matters that are federal offenses, discrimination in housing, misusing federal benefit programs. Rape and other forms of abuse are generally state crimes, which demand state action.
Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, is in prison a Texas prison for his role in the sexual abuse of children.
Good people, people who work to rescue refugees from various cults, argue passionately that polygamy itself should be a crime a felony in order to send the message that the abusive culture that too often surrounds that version of marriage is not acceptable.
Legalizing polygamy, these advocates genuinely fear, will allow these brutal patriarchs to tell their young women that all the other demands being made of them are legal, too.
Others contend that polygamy should be decriminalized because that would help victims of abuse to come forward without their own history or belief system making them the target of an investigation rather than the victim of a crime.
Either way, the criminalization of polygamy is a tool that will forever be useless in the kit of people who could, who should, but who don't, enforce basic state laws against the abuse of children, sexual and otherwise. Laws that should apply everywhere, no matter the marital status or religious belief of anyone involved.