So yesterday was the day that both parties in the “Sisterwives” Lawsuit, regarding the Brown family, were to file motions on the constitutionality of the states bigamy statues. The state, rather than face a legal challenge they cannot win, has decided to assume the fetal position and try to appease the Brown’s by filing a declaration with the Court promising not to prosecute the Brown family, end their investigation, and furthermore promise not to harass, persecute and prosecute polygamists any more, essentially trying to mirror the Utah State Attorney General’s position.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman wrote, “I have now adopted a formal policy not to prosecute the practice of bigamy unless the bigamy occurs in conjunction with another crime or a person under the age of 18 was a party to the bigamous marriage or relationship”. For a complete story, including the Brown’s response you can read Fox 13 report here.
This is a big change from their tone two years ago. It reminds me of when I was a kid and the bully in elementary got caught picking on me. He said he was sorry with his parent and the principle now standing over his shoulder, and promised to do better in the future. In my experience, this kind of apology means you won’t be bullied as long as the bully won’t be caught, but it doesn’t mean he is really sorry. Later, the same bully labeled me as a tattle tale and got others to trip me from behind when I was walking.
I have had many people tell me they thought the Brown’s dramatized the events then for television and that they suffered no real threat. As someone who has faced the fear of potential prosecution, I am here to proclaim that the threat was authentic. When I talked to the Brown’s at that time the trauma and fear were real. In fact, to their credit they have never made the lawsuit something for television, but have remained true to being themselves on camera.
The new approach is certainly an attempt to mirror that of the Utah Attorney General. It was the state that was let out of the lawsuit because of their unspoken practice of not prosecuting the controversial practice for the last few decades. The judge had agreed with the lawsuits premise when he refused to dismiss the lawsuit as having no basis, essentially saying the impact on the Brown’s free speech has a potential “chilling effect.”
I am glad the Brown’s are continuing with their lawsuit. What this action by Utah County shows is the indefensible position, and the injustice of polygamy laws. It is not enough to say we are not going to prosecute a law, because we cannot win, but we are still going to leave the law in place and use it when we deem it necessary for the “bad” polygamous people.
While we can all agree the underage marriage, marriage fraud and other crimes committed by polygamous individuals or not, should be prosecuted; we don’t need a bigamy enhancement for that. It is admirable the Utah Attorney General’s office has tried to keep a dialog and realized the practical reality of not being able to lock us all up, but is this far enough? No!
Remove the stigma through decriminalization, and deal with polygamous people as any religious, racial or relationship status minority. There are laws against child abuse, there are laws against fraud. While we applaud the change by Utah County, we hope the new Utah State Attorney General who is elected this year, and other public policy makers will realize that this does not go far enough.
Justice and freedom for the least of us, is justice and freedom for all of us! By removing the stigma formally, by not only saying we will not prosecute plural families, but that WE CANNOT BY LAW prosecute plural families, we eliminate the public endorsement for prejudice, persecution and discrimination, and we open up a real dialogue for members of this culture to fully engage in the civil process.
I want my children to run for office, be police officers, lawyers, judges and contributing members of society. I want individuals who are from plural families and are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and other crimes, crimes that occur in every segment of society, to feel free to come forward and report those crimes, without being made to feel like part of their victimization is also polygamy. I want a society that gives us the same freedom, the same respect and the same rights as every other American, no more and no less!