Should polygamy be a felony, or a matter between man and wives? Lawmakers in Utah's Republican-controlled Senate leaned toward the latter on Tuesday and voted unanimously to decriminalize polygamy. Under current Utah law, a person who "purports to marry and cohabitates with" more than one spouse is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. The bill passed by Utah lawmakers removes the threat of jail time and makes polygamy between consenting adults an infraction treated the same way as a parking offense, punishable with a fine of up to $750 and community service, reports Reuters. The Mormon church banned polygamy more than a century ago, but it is still practiced by around 30,000 fundamentalists, many of them in isolated Utah communities, the AP reports.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson, says the intention is not to legalize polygamy, but to encourage victims of crime to report abuse without fear of prosecution, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. "In these isolated, insular communities, that's where a lot of the problems can really escalate," Henderson said after Tuesday's vote. "And that’s where the bad people can really—and have—weaponized the law in order to keep their victims silent and isolated in their control." Utah's attorney general has already stopped prosecuting otherwise law-abiding polygamists. The bill, which now moves to Utah's House of Representatives, leaves intact the existing 15-year penalty for polygamists who are also convicted of offenses including sexual abuse and human trafficking. (Read more polygamy stories.)