SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Carrying out his sworn duty to uphold the Utah Constitution is becoming a public relations hot potato for Gov. Mike Leavitt.
The sticking point is Article III, which mandates religious tolerance but adds this caveat: ``Polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.''
The early Mormons' practice of plural marriage, renounced by the church in 1890, has persisted among religious splinter groups and hasn't been prosecuted in more than 45 years. Today, there are an estimated 30,000 polygamists in the West.
But an accusation of child abuse against a prominent member of a wealthy polygamist clan has brought that wink-and-a-nod tolerance into question and caught the Republican governor in the middle.
The issue is a political, religious and cultural mine field in a state where 70 percent of the governor's constituents are Mormon.
Leavitt, a descendant of Mormon polygamists, appeared to stumble when asked about the child abuse case at a July 23 news conference. Refusing to flatly condemn polygamy, he suggested that it may be protected as a religious freedom, despite a century of case law to the contrary.
``It's clear to me in this state and many others, they have chosen not to aggressively prosecute it,'' he said. ``I assume there is a legal reason for that. I think it goes well beyond tradition.''
``What needs to be cracked down on, if there is to be such a crackdown, is any abuses of peoples' civil and human rights,'' he said.
Leavitt's comments brought condemnation from a fledgling organization of women who have fled polygamy. Members of Tapestry of Polygamy say the practice of men having more than one wife is inherently abusive.
``As it is practiced, it degrades women,'' said Roweena Erickson, a former polygamist wife and a board member of the self-help group.
``Many women in these relationships struggle with isolation, emotional abuse and poverty,'' she said.
Tapestry's stand was countered last week by the newly formed Women's Religious Liberties Union, which called on Leavitt and the Utah Legislature to repeal the ban on plural marriage.
On Friday, the governor backpedaled from his religious freedom statement, although he stresses that he does not condone polygamy.
Polygamy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began in secret among its leaders - founder Joseph Smith had 33 wives - but was openly practiced after the Mormons fled to the future site of Utah to escape persecution.
Congress passed tough anti-bigamy laws and the church, under threat of having its assets confiscated, abandoned the practice in 1890. Then Congress insisted the anti-polygamy clause be included in the Utah Constitution when statehood was granted in 1896.
Modern polygamists continue to observe Mormon doctrine and are convinced the church was wrong to abandon plural marriage. The church disagrees; polygamists are summarily excommunicated.
The felony child abuse case involves John Daniel Kingston, a prominent member of a polygamist clan that reportedly has as many as 1,000 members and business holdings worth up to $150 million.
Kingston, 43, is accused of whipping his 16-year-old daughter with a belt after she rebelled against an arranged marriage to his brother. Police say the girl, her uncle's 15th wife, told them all she wanted to do was finish high school. Kingston has pleaded innocent.
On Friday, the governor said that after speaking with prosecutors, he had concluded polygamy isn't pursued in court not because of religious freedom but because - as with fornication, sodomy and adultery - it is difficult to do so.
He cited three reasons: lack of proof, since most polygamous marriages take place in private and are not documented; case law preventing children from being removed from a polygamous home; and higher priorities for law enforcement.
There may be another reason. The last time the law was enforced, when state and federal agents raided a polygamist community in 1952, it became a public relations debacle. Photographs of crying children being dragged from parents' arms and husbands being jailed turned public opinion against the authorities.
The prosecutor in the abuse case against Kingston, Box Elder County Attorney Jon Bunderson, is pragmatic about enforcing the anti-polygamy clause.
``In my 23 or 24 years of doing this, I've never had anyone come in and seek a prosecution because consenting adults are living together.''
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. The information contained
in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise
distributed without prior written authority of The Associated Press.
Utah's Current Polygamy Flap
is a Reminder
By Karl Cates
August 14-27, 1 998
Salt Lake Observer
Smart Local News
(c) 1998 Silver King News Corp.
VOLUME I NUMBER VI $1.00
Muffled bene ath all the recent racket over the unseemly practice of polygamy in Utah is what might be the death knell for whatever presidential aspirations Gov. Mike Leavitt holds.
Mr. Leavitt has never said openly that he aspires to the nation's top office. Nor has he dismissed it entirely; he's shown every indication along the way that it's something he might be after. Witness his current ascension in the National Governors Association, where he was just named vice chairman and where he will automatically rise to chairman next year. Ibis organization, assembled officially as a Washington lobby group on behalf of assorted state-sponsored causes, is also the vehicle by which politicians from small states gain national exposure. A guy named Bill Clinton - hardly a household name in 1992 - rose to prominence after first building a network of friends in substantial part via his role as chairman of the National Governors Association.
He understood - as Mr. Leavitt does too --that to emerge from an obscure background and a small demographic base requires a myriad of influential personal relationships that form a larger mosaic acting as a substitute for the clout that comes naturally from pure wealth or a big hometown electoral count.
And Mr. Leavitt in some ways is a natural for the Oval Office. He possesses great energy, substantial administrative skills, a centrist political streak. He is also better looking and more upbeat than national Republican stalwarts such as, say, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp or even George Bush Jr., the Texas governor who seems to be the early favorite for the GOP presidential nomination.
Mr. Leavitt has yet another point in his favor: namely the impending creation of a Western Regional Primary. He could stand to be the biggest beneficiary of a new electoral voice in the West created by the combined delegate power of states that would likely include Utah, Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
But there's an odd fly in the Leavitt ointment and It's appeared most recently as polygamy, a peripheral practice that is openly tolerated in Utah even as it is abhorred by the mainstream here and elsewhere.
It's tempting to suggest a comparison between Utah's polygamy traditions and the notorious samefamily marriages and first-cousin couplings for which Arkansas is Jokingly known. But there's a difference. Arkansas' backwoods practices are the butt of jokes because there's an archaic flavor to them that suggests the habit is a mostly dead institution.
Not so polygamy, which is alive and well in Utah, where there are more polygamous unions today than there ever were in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints formally condemned the practice as a condition of statehood for Utah.
Mr. Leavitt gets dragged into the discussion because (a) he's a descendant of a polygamist clan
in southern Utah and (b) it's become a hot publicpolicy topic of late. That's in part because of an expose' by the Salt Lake Tribune on how certain polygamist groups live on the dole by passing their assorted units off as single-parent families, but in larger measure it's because of recent allegations of forced marriage, sexual crimes and child abuse among some polygamists.
'Me governor mishandled the controversy badly when it first surfaced in July, suggesting that polygamy, although illegal, isn't prosecuted for religious rights reasons and because it supposedly occurs between consenting adults.
"It's clear. to me in this state and many others, they have chosen not to aggressively prosecute it," he said. "I assume there is a legal reason for that. I think it goes well beyond tradition."
"What needs to be cracked down on, if there is to be such a crackdown, is any abuses of peoples, civil and human rights," he said.
Forced by public outcry to readdress the issue, a few days later Mr. Leavitt said what he should've offered in the beginning.
"I do not condone polygamy. I am -not sympathetic to its practice."
The damage might already have been done, however, as news organizations around the country picked up on it.
To Mr. Leavitt's relief, perhaps, it wasn't as big a story as the Tribune suggested in. reporting that Jay Leno made a joke of it No mention of Mr. Leavitt and polygamy could be found in the New York Times, for instance, and not a word about it was uttered on CNN.
In an exception within the national press corps, however, it was noted in a National Public Radio piece in which news host Susan Wertheimer interviewed Howard Berkes, the NPR correspondent based in Salt Lake City.
"I'm not sure that this is necessarily a big political problem for the governor within the state," Mr. Berkes said. "It may be more of a perception problem for the governor outside the state as some consider whether he's suitable for ... national political office perhaps, and it only draws more attention to an uncomfortable part of Utah's past.,,
Should Mr. Leavitt embark on a spirited presidential push, then that distant past - and the more recent one - will resurface.
Inevitably, fundamental suspicions about church vs. state will seep in, a concern for which Mr. Leavitt has not always shown much sensitivity.
Fodder for that topic can be culled most recently polygamy aside - from his record on appointments to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, where he has steadfastly refused to dilute a membership where four teetotaling Mormons outnumber the sole, imbibing, non-LDS member.
He could've sent a strong separatiort-of-church and- state signal this summer when he filled the latest board vacancy, but he opted instead for the path more traveled, maintaining the four-to-one Mormon/non- Mornon formula. It might've been the politic thing for him to do locally, considering his base in Utah.
But it might also turn into one more historical
fact that will prove to haunt him, nationally speaking, in the long run.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said July 23 during a news conference
that he thought the practice of polygamy might qualify for freedom of religion
protection under the U.S. Constitution. the governor later backpedaled,
saying the "First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom is not among
the reasons prosecutors" do not enforce anti-polygamy laws and that he
is "not sympathetic to its practice." His initial remark prompted
this response from a newly organized group of former polygamous wives;
We as refugees of polygamy, come to you with grieving hearts.
We now realize that polygamy is a titanic in disguise, poorly crafted for the interest of greed and power. When we finally had the courage to leave our abusive relationships behind and jump overboard to safety, no one was there to catch us. And as we drifted afloat, in confusion and despair, no one was there to lend us a hand. Others who were safe saw us, but they closed their eyes pretending we did not exist. In our innocence we believed this journey to be right, we followed our patriarchs.
Governor Leavitt, we know you did not design this craft, but we know you have within your hands the power given to you by the people of this great state of Utah, to alter this course. When you took office you swore an oath to uphold the state's constitution and the laws of the land. While the laws say polygamy is illegal, you have been quoted as saying, ". . .we have a long history of dealing with it," We, along with many women and children, believe that the state has a long history of NOT dealing with it.
When you indicate that polygamy may infringe on freedom of religious expression we wonder at whose cost, the polygamist or the children?
Our Governor is elected by the people to represent society, keep order, and to ensure our best interests. How can we feel comfortable re-electing a Governor who does not have an opinion concerning actions which are against the law? Polygamy is against the law, abuse is against the law, and incest is against the law. We don't believe our Founding Fathers would ever have wanted abuse to be protected behind religious freedom.
Governor Leavitt, we petition you to enforce the laws of polygamy until, if at such a time, they are repealed. If at such time, the people decide that this lifestyle legalized then laws should be established to prevent any abuses. Right now is not the time to consider future legislation or policies, but to enforce the laws that currently exist. You have publicly implied that you have no intentions of enforcing anti-polygamy and bigamy laws, which is contrary to the obligations of your office. In the eyes of the honest, law-abiding citizens of Utah this is deplorable. We demand action.
Governor Leavitt, we must be assured those women and children exiting polygamy have their temporal needs met. Their physical, mental, and emotional health is vital to their productive membership in today's society. These needs are not being met. We, as the membership of Tapestry of Polygamy, will not be satisfied until all these human rights are guaranteed. The state of Utah has consciously turned a blind eye to some of the most vulnerable victimized sector of our society. Which has resulted in physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Too often when these women and children leave, mere survival forces them to return to their abusers. They become powerless within the court system. We demand action.
You swore an oath when taking office as Governor to uphold the constitution of the State of Utah and laws of the land. The time to take action is now.
August 14-27, 1 998
Salt Lake Observer
Smart Local News
(c) 1998 Silver King News Corp.
VOLUME I NUMBER VII $1.00
Seeking to distance his group's practices from the well-publicized alleged abuses of certain other polygamist clans in Utah, Owen Allred of Draper a couple of weeks ago sent this missive to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Attorney General Jan Graham. In this letter Mr. Allred argues that his group is more mainstream than stereotypes suggest, and that a troubling hypocrisy surrounds the current controversy in which the practice is widely criticized even as its descendants boast of their polygamy roots.
Apostolic United Brethren
3139 West 14750 South
Bluffdale, UT 84065
The Honorable Jan Graham
236 Capitol Building
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114
Dear Governor Leavitt and Attorney General Graham:
I am the leader of the Apostolic United brethren, (AUB), a religious organization with over 5,000 members, located primarily in Utah. As you may know, the AUB membership adheres to the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but believe in the doctrine of plural marriage as well. AUB members vote, pay taxes, serve in the military, educate their children, and do all the kinds of activities associated with the rights and privileges of American citizenship.
Recent media attention to activities of certain polygamist groups has given our members grave concern, not only regarding the crimes alleged, but also because it appears your offices and the press have unfairly implicated all polygamist organizations as perpetrators of abuse. This broad-brush approach is undeserving and should not be tolerated. After all, when prominent members of the LDS Church are caught perpetrating abuse, we don't see headlines such as "Graham: Utah to Prosecute Mormons for Crimes!"
We believe it is important that you receive some basic information regarding our religious beliefs, lifestyle, and philosophy of openness and freedom for our members directly from us, instead of receiving it through the filter of prejudice and suspicion which seems to have permeated recent news reports.
First let me say the AUB members devote themselves to the spiritual tenants of their religion, which includes devotion to God, respect for men, women, and children, the sanctity of marriage and family, and a fundamental belief in free agency. The doctrine of free agency requires every man and women to make choices of his or her own free will and take responsibility for individual conduct.
The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
The Honorable Jan Graham
August 14, 1998
Consistent with our belief of free agency, the AUB does not arrange marriage between its members. We further view intermarriage between close relatives as an abomination of God's law. We discourage dating until the age of 17 and advise our young adult members to postpone considering marriage until their vocational or college education is obtained, or at least until the age of 21. Toward this end, we offer scholarships and financial assistance when possible so our young members may complete their formal education. Marriage should be the result of love and commitment between consenting individuals, where women are deemed equal to men in every way. Only through the exercise of a person's free agency should a person decide whether to undertake the benefits and responsibilities of plural marriage, and whom to marry. Church leaders do not make these decisions for its members.
Central to our belief of free agency is the responsibility to become self-sufficient, law-abiding members of society. The AUB does not believe it is above governance by man but find it unfortunate that one of our fundamental religious beliefs was placed outside the law by what amounted to extortion by the federal government as a price of statehood over one hundred years ago. Nevertheless, AUB members are required to abide by the law and we can point to a long history of openness and cooperation with law enforcement and social agencies when dealing with transgressions by our members.
It is troubling that our fellow Utah citizens and legislature have not yet found the courage to disavow anti-polygamy hypocrisy. While AUB citizens voluntarily marry and support their spouses and children out of sense of deep spiritual and personal commitment, popular American culture promotes the idea of cohabitation outside of wedlock without commitment and single parent families have become the norm. Even worse, scoundrels such as Adrian Kashoggi and his wives were welcomed to this State with open arms and invited to sample its many treasures. While our most prominent leaders courted this man and delighted in the curiosity of his multiple wives, Utah citizens are technically deemed criminals for engaging in the same practice of plural marriage.
Let me be clear. AUB members abhor violence, abuse, and neglect in any form. We condemn those who would manipulate sacred religious doctrine to coerce or intimidate others for personal or financial gain. We affirm our commitment to maintain cooperation with law enforcement agencies to assist in the prosecution of abuse, violence, and crime where they might occur. As we see it, this is the duty of any Christian.
Finally, the AUB discourages its members from seeking state and federal assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. This is often difficult because the stigma accompanying our lifestyle makes it difficult to compete in the economic marketplace. However, AUB members prefer to provide assistance to one another rather than rely on government resources.
The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
The Honorable Jan Graham
August 14, 1998
Considering our focus on God, family, education, and the American work ethic, AUB members have endured the hypocrisy of being denigrated as a "cult" far too long. Interestingly, many distinguished citizens of this State boast proudly that a grandparent had several wives and numerous children, (rather like coming over on the Mayflower), while castigating those "weird" polygamists. While it might be popular to disparage, ridicule, or persecute polygamists, the effect is to drive disaffected groups underground. Those groups are then left to operate unchallenged in a shadow of secrecy.
AUB members will not waiver in our open exercise of religious freedom, and we will continue to actively participate in social and religious development of this State. Therefore, we invite you to engage in a dialogue with religious groups such as ours so that we may work together on ways to best prevent the abuses alleged to have occurred in the Kingston clan.
We applaud your position that polygamists should be prosecuted no more
or no less than other citizens who breach the law and look forward to continuing
our commitment and cooperation with government leaders and law enforcement
agencies to root out the abuse, intimidation, and violence left unchecked
in secret groups. Please contact me if your offices desire any assistance,
information, or education we may extend. Thank you.
Apostolic United Brethren