Circa 1962: three weeks after I was married off in an arranged marriage at age 16 to 26-year-old Mormon polygamist William Preston Tucker who already had the depicted two other wives–one 6 and the other 15 years older than I.

On Feb 10, 2020, a Bill was on the table in the Utah senate to reduce the level of penalty for polygamists in Utah: SB102 would make bigamy among consenting adults an infraction on par with a traffic ticket!

Around March 23, 2020, in an effort to try to stop the passing of SB102, I sent (and also called in to the Utah Governor’s office) an urgent message. But my efforts were wasted. The bill was passed this week. The following is the message I sent to the Utah governor around March 23, 2020:

I was born and raised fifth-generation Mormon fundamentalist (a great-great-granddaughter of the renowned Benjamin F Johnson). I’m presently 74-years-old, an Ex-Mormon fundamentalist, Ex-polygamist-wife, Survivor, and Escapee (in 1967) of the Mormon-Fundy LeBaron cult headquartered in Colonia LeBaron, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico.

As an escapee of Mormon fundamentalism, I SERIOUSLY and URGENTLY request that Utah Governor Gary Herbert VETO SB102.

This bill is written for “consenting adults,” NOT the vast majority of women and children who are not consenting. This bill does NOT provide assistance or safety for the thousands of victims of polygamy. 

I lived through the 1953 Short Creek Raid and barely escaped with my life the Mormon-polygamist LeBaron cult. I have been writing about some of my experiences growing up as a Mormon fundamentalist who was married off, in an arranged marriage, at age 16 to a polygamist 10 years my senior–who already had two other wives. My website is: StephanySpencer.com

Polygamy devastated mine and my daughter’s life. Please become FULLY informed on what religious polygamy does to especially the women and children born into Mormonism. Anybody fully informed of polygamy and its devastations would NOT pass SB102.

Polygamy is ingrained in Mormon fundamentalists from birth. I was informed, like all the rest, that I MUST live polygamy or go to hell–because the Prophet Joseph Smith (in the 132nd section of the Doctrine and covenants) said so! 

Many Mormon fundamentalist women tell you they are choosing to live “plural marriage.” They only say this because they live in denial and aren’t aware of what they are even doing–let alone what they are doing to the unborn generations they continue to pass this doctrine down to.

I beg you, from the bottom of my heart:
VETO SB102!!

Sincerely,
Stephany Spencer-LeBaron

Guest opinion:
Has the Utah Legislature done its homework on polygamy?
By Valerie Hudson, Contributor Feb 16, 2020, 7:00am MST

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The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. The Legislature is considering a bill that would lower the felony penalty for bigamy. Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Utah State Senate has voted to decriminalize polygamy between consenting adults, making bigamy and polygamy an infraction rather than a felony. Fines and community service would be the extent of legal enforcement, akin to a traffic ticket. Of course, Utah has for the past several decades largely declined to arrest anyone for polygamy, unless additional charges such as underage marriage or welfare fraud could be brought. Maybe decriminalization is “better than doing nothing,” to use the words of state senator Daniel Thatcher?

I suggest that position is untenable. Where polygyny is involved — and the vast majority of polygamy cases are in fact cases of polygyny (the union of one man to multiple wives) — the harm has been found to be inherent in the practice. In 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia was asked to rule on the constitutionality of Canada’s ban on polygamy. One of the star witnesses was Professor Rose McDermott of Brown University, who has penned an entire volume called “The Evils of Polygyny” summarizing her extensive research.

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McDermott finds a statistically significant relationship between the legality and prevalence of polygyny within a country, on the one hand, and what they call “an entire downstream suite of negative consequences for men, women, children, and the nation-state,” on the other. Their data analysis points to a significant relationship between polygyny and poor outcomes, including higher levels of sex trafficking and higher levels of domestic violence.

In addition, the literature finds consistent underinvestment overall in the children of polygynous unions, including lower rates of primary and secondary education for both male and female children, higher rates of child labor, higher rates of child malnourishment, higher rates of genetic abnormalities and lower age of marriage for girls. There are also predictable consequences of polygamy’s “cruel arithmetic” for teenage boys, who may be exiled in significant numbers from polygamous communities so that male leaders may have multiple wives.

Other experts have pointed to serious psychological harms for women and children in polygynous marriages, including anxiety and depression. This anxiety and depression may not only be felt by women (and their children) already in polygynous relationships, but also by women (and their children) currently in monogamous relationships, who must worry about whether their husband and father will take additional wives.

McDermott concludes: “Policymakers would have to change multiple laws across multiple domains to exert as much of an effect on these negative outcomes toward women and children as could be accomplished by the abolition of polygyny. … By prohibiting polygyny, we reduce social inequities, violence toward women and children, (as well as) increase political rights and civil liberties for all.”

All of this research weighed heavily in the subsequent ruling upholding Canada’s ban on the practice. The full judgment of the BC court can be found online and should be read by any Utah state legislator before voting on this important issue.

Furthermore, it is important to consider the conclusions reached by nations with significant numbers of emigres from polygynous cultures. Instead of decriminalization, virtually all European nations, as well as Canada, have refused to recognize such marriages due to the harm involved. By refusing recognition, these nations also prohibit the practice of a man periodically returning to his country of origin in order to take additional wives and bring them back to the destination country.

The law is not a hindrance, at least not in this case. Instead, the law is a powerful teacher and a bright beacon of hope. This is most eloquently stated by Ora Barlow, a polygamy escapee, who was treated as a piece of property all her life until the law told her that those who did this to her were wrong and had committed a serious crime.

“As a child growing up there,” Barlow said, “I can tell you the only friend I felt like I had was the law, because when the law did take effect and the leaders were put in prison, I actually felt free.”

Girls of 16 (the legal age of marriage in Utah with parental consent) raised from birth to become polygamous wives or face hellfire will have fewer defenses than ever before. Regardless of whether Utah has chosen to vigorously or laxly enforce the law, all Utahns know the law is there and that it divides right from wrong, justice from injustice.

Polygamous systems are rightly compared to organized crime and slavery. Indeed, it is a most pernicious form of trafficking, as the British Columbia case clearly shows. What if we judged (correctly) that laws against sex trafficking were just not making much of a dent against that practice, and thus decriminalizing it would be “better than doing nothing”? After all, the law sends sex traffickers and their victims “into the shadows,” as one state senator has said of polygamists under current laws. The law also sends prostitutes and their pimps “into the shadows.” Drug dealers, too, are there, as those engaged in the black market for human organs. Should we consider decriminalization for these consensual lifestyle choices, as well? Every society faces cases where law enforcement is difficult and may even have unintended consequences. Sometimes a society should live with that tension for the greater good of the largest number of people.

But there are tweaks to the law that could and should be considered. Consider the Nordic model of addressing prostitution, where only pimps and Johns are arrested, and prostitutes are rightly considered victims in need of support and assistance from the state. Nothing is stopping the Utah state Legislature from carving out a similar category of victim who would be exempt from legal punishment for bigamy.

It should raise a huge red flag for the Legislature that even the very open-minded and progressive Canadians and Europeans reject the path of polygamy decriminalization. The House has yet to vote on the matter. Perhaps it’s time for additional homework on the subject before voting: We suggest bringing out Professor McDermott to testify at the next set of hearings.

Valerie M. Hudson is a University Distinguished Professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Her views are her own.

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  • All Comments 35

Johnny Triumph

26 seconds ago

The problem with limiting these polygamous relationships is that there’s only one truly legal marriage, cohabitation is difficult to police

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AT

4 hours ago

Valerie certainly cherry picks her research, and she should know better. She also generalizes from a subset of the practice to the general condition. Take for example a couple no longer having children who wants to invite someone else into the relationship. Where is the harm? Is it really the state’s role to protect us from our decisions? Maybe one could make the case that, say, people who drink alcohol are harming themselves and drinking alcohol should be prohibited. I wonder how that would turn out? Actions between consenting adults, it’s really none of our business…

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Golden Rules

5 hours ago

The government steps in to prevent predatory lending practices, too, even though that is an agreement made between two consenting adults.  The reason is because people enter the agreement without fully understanding its disadvantages and drawbacks.  

The government (and our society) has a responsibility to protect vulnerable people from being taken advantage of. 

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DN Subscriber

4 hours ago

No one has personal responsibility for what they do?   Only the “government” can tell you what is good for you?

Sounds a lot like NYC Megabillionaire Mike Bloomberg who wants to tell you how much salt to eat, and how much soda you can have, and why you should not have a gun, because the Government will protect you.

Sorry, I rather live in a free country.  Yes, I may make mistakes, but I will accept responsibility for my decisions, and not ask you to fix things if I mess up.

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Golden Rules

53 minutes ago

I agree with all of that.  I think the government should only step in if it is to protect people from others, not from themselves. 

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Bernard GUi

7 hours ago

How can polygamy be illegal but having relations and fathering children with multiple women is not?

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Pierre_Defecto

6 hours ago

Logic and consistency do not seem to figure prominently in sexual morality.

It did at one time, when sexuality was believed to be rooted in the principle of the sanctity if human life.  All tradition sexual morality flows directly and naturally from that principle.  

But modern society has substituted rationalization of personal desire.   And there are no bounds and no logic to the varieties of personal desire.

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Fullypresent

7 hours ago

Yes, do they have stats on how many use the welfare/food stamp system? What they cost the education system with the large families they have? Whether they pay their fair share of taxes? Seems they are missing a lot of information before making a decision. 

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DN Subscriber

4 hours ago

So, how many “single parent” families where they did not bother to get married are getting welfare, food stamps and burdening the education system, not paying taxes, etc?

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Sanefan

7 hours ago

Interesting how any and all practices by religions around the world are not only accepted but endorsed by liberal progressives, but polygamy is considered evil and according to the author destructive to families.  Didn’t we hear that same argument to oppose same sex marriages.  The HYPOCRISY is glaring!  While I personally don’t agree with polygamy, but nor do I agree with Sharia law or lots of other religious practice, we can’t have one standard of acceptance for one religion and another for every other religion. 

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Harrison Bergeron

7 hours ago

It’s a fallacious argument. We can redefine marriage for a few atypical sexual practices but not others? We can look past any harm to society in doing so, but not for polygamists? Whatever happened to equal treatment under the law? It looks like the only criteria for getting into the new age marriage club is defined by the relative strength of your lobby than anything rooted in fairness or logic. 

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Impartial7

7 hours ago

You’ve totally missed all the points. It’s not “liberals” that don’t like polygamy. It’s conservative Catholics, Southern Baptists, Jewish, Trump supporting evangelicals, etc. First, Utah signed documents, giving up polygamy in order to joining the US. Now, they’re reneging? Second, Utah polygamy is forever woven with welfare fraud. From both Utah taxpayers and the rest of the country. Utah’s version of polygamy is a criminal operation, no matter what some scripture says. 

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Harrison Bergeron

7 hours ago

 (Edited)

First, Utah signed documents, giving up polygamy in order to joining the US.

Sure and the Missouri compromise demanded that some states enter the Union as slave states. Are you going to hold them to it?

Utah polygamy is forever woven with welfare fraud.

This is simply painting all polygamists with a broad brush. It’s like Bloomberg saying all crime is committed by minorities. If welfare fraud was only limited to polygamists and was not a problem in all 50 states and US territories you might have an argument. 

Utah’s version of polygamy is a criminal operation, no matter what some scripture says.

There is no Utah version of polygamy any more that there is a Utah version of same sex couples.

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Back Talk

7 hours ago

The same welfare fraud occurs to single women living with one man or having relationships with multiple men doesnt it?  The problems associated with single motherhood are statistically staggering but no one is talking about ways to prevent that. 

I have no interest in making polygamy legal or “decriminalized”.   Adults, however, do live their lives differently than most people agree with.

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Pierre_Defecto

8 hours ago

It seems like “homework on polygamy” would include a study of its history.

Polygamy has a much, much, much greater history of acceptance by all cultures and religions than, say, gay marriage.  Once we have opened the definition of marriage to an individual right, I don’t see how we can possibly “limit the love” to only a “pair”.  Certainly anyone who objects will be demonized. How can we impose our morality?!?

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Harrison Bergeron

8 hours ago

No opposing viewpoints allowed on this one!

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Golden Rules

5 hours ago

Slavery has a long history too.  It has taken a long time for humans to advance far enough that we are willing to stand up for the vulnerable among us. 

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Leopard

8 hours ago

We must do everything to quash this outrageous and horrific practice. Why are they just making it easier for this? I lived in other states and in my career in commercial banking and investment banking I traveled to all the major cities in the country for several decades. When people asked me where I was from and I said Utah, what I got from there was a bunch of questions about polygamy. Their perceptions were of some kind of titillating oddity.  I considered it a detriment to my reputation and credibility. So when asked where I was from, I began naming either Oregon, my birth state or California where I have lived or even Idaho, which is recognized as beautiful and interesting. Utah has to get beyond this, because believe me, it is what we are really know for, not the snow.

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DN Subscriber

8 hours ago

Polygamy has problems, as to marriages between one man and one woman, or between two men or two women.

We now hear that “throuples” with three people more or less married are a big thing.

What about the harm done when marriage is not involved, only serial more or less consensual cohabitation, and the steadily growing number of children born to unmarried women?   This situation seems to create far more serious, and far more common, problems than polygamy.

Once society decided that marriage was something other than one man, one woman, it jettisoned any rationale for curbing any consensual cohabitation scheme that two or more people desire.

If we are not going to prosecute fathers of children born to unmarried women, then there is no justification at all for prosecution of someone for being married to multiple partners.

Traditional family structure may be offensive to some people, but several thousand years of experience showed that it pretty well worked, and 50+ years ignoring traditional family structure has shown that does not work nearly as well.

Either repeal the restrictions on polygamy entirely, or start prosecuting all non-traditional family structures.

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Harrison Bergeron

7 hours ago

Once society decided that marriage was something other than one man, one woman, it jettisoned any rationale for curbing any consensual cohabitation scheme that two or more people desire.

Yes. Pandora’s box has been opened. Like Pandora, we can quickly close the lid, but then all that remains in the box is fairness and equality.

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JaneB

9 hours ago

 (Edited)

You know, considering that the history of polygamy (abuse) in Utah is a hideous stain that won’t wash off, you might think legislators would think twice before decriminalizing it. You would be wrong, though. 

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