Bigamy Bill Adds More Protections

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - A week after testimony on HB 99 took place some changes have been made to protect those fleeing polygamy. The bill passed out of committee Tuesday, and is now on it's way to the House floor for a vote.

Republican Rep. Michael Noel of Kanab said the bill is aimed at fixing wording in Utah's bigamy law which the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals took issue with.

The representative put in a safe haven clause to help protect women who flee polygamy. This came after concerns were raised during testimony.

"Most of them I heard were people would be hiding in the shadows and they wouldn't come out even though we haven't seen that happen," said Rep. Noel.

Joe Darger, who himself has multiple wives, says the law doesn't give protections needed, and can hurt people trying to help.

"I can't go testify about abuse if that is going to expose me or my community," said Darger. "So it's not really a full safe harbor."

Other women including Julie Adkison who have escaped polygamy said during testimony the revised law could help.

"It will help people go after people in these groups because there are so many abuses," said Adkison. "So many times they hide behind freedom of religion."

The bill also states bigamy laws will only be enforced when other serious crimes have been committed. Examples include child abuse, fraud, or bigamy under false pretenses.

Those who support polygamy, like Joe Darger, believe the bigamy laws are unconstitutional. Supporters point out one of the only differences is when someone says they are married to multiple people.

"That is what we are saying is a felony and that makes no sense," said Darger. "But if I'm an adulterer and if I'm Hugh Hefner and I have a bunch of women on the side no problem."

Darger notes even people like Warren Jeffs weren't charged with bigamy to go with their other charges.

The bill now moves forward to the House floor for a vote. If passed it will then head to the Senate.

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