Does polygamy have a place in today’s society?
Yes, says a former Utah police officer convicted of sex offenses in a town in which more than half of his ex-colleagues are practitioners of polygamy.
Hildale’s Rodney Holm says plural marriage is a historic and current success.
In a 115-page brief filed with the Utah Supreme Court, an attorney for former Holm argues the practice of polygamy is a constitutional right that never produced the social ills claimed by its opponents. And, the brief says, monogamy is the minority way of life worldwide.
“Current demographics, domestic relations law, and religious diversity all accommodate plural marriage,” attorney Rodney Parker wrote.
An eight-month investigation by the state of Utah has found more than half of the police officers in the southern town of Hildale practice polygamy – that is, having more than one spouse.
He points out there is a broad range of lifestyles in the United States and only two-thirds of children under 18 live in the traditional two-parent household. With the growing divorce and remarriage rate, polygamy — in a serial, rather than concurrent, form — is commonplace, Parker says. In addition, more and more unmarried couples are living together, he says, according to a report in the Salt Lake City Tribune.
“Popular departure from traditional marriage has made our domestic laws on cohabitation and fornication anachronistic,” Parker writes. “These laws are not enforced against those practicing new lifestyles, but are asserted as weapons in this case against those living a traditional, family-grounded, religious-based lifestyle. This is ironic.”
The appeal cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down the sodomy convictions of two Houston men. A majority of the justices said a Texas anti-sodomy law violated the privacy rights of consenting adults.
Holm is appealing his convictions, including unlawful sex with a minor, which stem from his 1988 “spiritual” marriage to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs, with whom he had two children. At the time, Holm was legally married to Stubbs’ sister and had another spiritual wife.
The three were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which embraces plural marriage.
In the brief, filed Wednesday, Parker writes that polygamy opponents in the 1800s complained about the enslavement of women but adds safe houses set up for escaping wives remained mostly empty. Mormon women consistently voted to retain multiple marriage, he says.
He adds plural wives and their husbands still are happy with their marriages and numerous studies back that up.
However, prosecutors contend that there is no constitutional right to have sex with a minor. They add offenses such as forced marriages and child and spousal abuse can be difficult to prosecute in closed polygamous communities.
Holm, 37, was sentenced to a year in jail after his conviction. He was released last month, but filed his appeal while incarcerated. He is registered as a sex offender and cannot return to his law enforcement job.
“Hildale has 13 officers who are certified by Utah, seven by our records are polygamists,” Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Hildale, Utah, and sister-city Colorado City, Ariz., have been havens for polygamists
He says some on the force were aware of the illegal activity by fellow officers, but did not take any action.
And though Shurtleff himself ordered the inquiry, he’s not pursuing criminal charges on any of the accusations.
“We just don’t have the resources to start charging bigamy,” Shurtleff told the paper.
The attorney general, who maintains police officers need to be held to a higher standard, is instead looking to strip the officers of their ability to enforce the law.
The population of Hildale and its sister city, Colorado City, Ariz., include many members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which practices polygamy. The more well-known Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has disavowed its previous doctrine that polygamy was acceptable.
The mayor of Hildale, David Zitter, is reportedly not pleased with the probe, calling the attorney general’s polygamy investigator, Ron Barton, “a nuisance,” adding that Shurtleff was making “a direct assault on polygamy.”
“I don’t know how you can see it any other way,” said Zitter, who told the Tribune Shurtleff is reneging on his claim he wouldn’t target polygamy itself, but other crimes such as sex with a minor.
Though the state is not pressing charges, it is forwarding the results of its investigation to Washington County Attorney Brock R. Belnap, who has the option of starting his own criminal probe or declining the case.