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In the Utah Constitution, "perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed."

But, after decades of harsh condemnation of the LDS faith's practice of polygamy, the state's founders wrote that polygamous or plural marriages are "forever prohibited."

It hasn't completely worked, and there's no reason to believe it ever will. Although relatively small in number, polygamous families live not only in isolated communities but also in the Salt Lake Valley, home to thousands of members of the Apostolic United Brethren.

After reading Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune project on a new, small offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), I got to thinking once again about the nature of marriage. And, as a strong believer in the right of same-sex couples to marry, it came to me that willing adults who enter into plural marriage should have the same rights.

Having covered polygamy in Utah for more than two decades, I'm acutely aware of the abuse that can and has occurred in polygamous enclaves. You need look no further than Warren Jeffs, the despotic FLDS leader who tore families apart, banished men and is in a Texas prison for, among other crimes, "marrying" a 12-year-old girl.

Particularly when girls and women are passed around like brood cows, polygamy can be described only as evil.

Still, much of Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia have Muslim majorities and polygamous marriages. There are abuses, certainly, just as there are in marriages between one man and one woman.

My support for gay marriage hinges on these factors: a mature, loving couple should have the same rights and protections as straight couples and to have governments recognize their unions; and that each individual enters into the relationship without financial or ecclesiastical pressure.

In Sunday's stories, William E. Jessop — once a Jeffs hatchet man — is now the leader of 100 or so former Jeffs followers who meet for services in Hildale, the Utah town twinned with Colorado City, Ariz. After services, men and women play volleyball and boys play basketball in a high school gym.

The Jeffs reign held enormous hardships for his flock. Now the Jessop contingent can use the Internet and associate with whom they will. Underage girls are not forced to marry, Jessop says, and he wants young men and women to get educations and careers.

Will some of them choose polygamous marriage? In the tradition of the church, almost certainly. Will they be prosecuted for bigamy? Under current Utah legal thinking, almost certainly not.

Utah even has some celebrity polygamists — Kody Brown and his four wives, of TLC's "Sister Wives" — although the family moved to Nevada a few years ago. HBO's fictional "Big Love" ran for several seasons.

Entertainment aside, the question of polygamous and gay marriage is one of adult choice. Who am I to oppose the choices of two women who join in matrimony, or two or more who choose to enter what now is called a "spiritual" marriage with one man?

This world has seen uncountable changes in customs and mores, and it surely will see more as time goes by. Let adults be adults, committed and accountable.

I have friends who ask if their gay marriage has ever affected my straight one. And I ask them if mine has affected theirs. The answer is always no.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter: @pegmcentee.