Is Polygamy Legal in Utah?
TV shows such as "Big Love" and "Sister Wives" portray Mormon polygamous relationships. Since polygamy was a common practice in the early Mormon church and Utah is the state with the largest population of Mormons, it is natural to ask whether polygamy is legal in Utah.
A history of Mormonism and polygamy in Utah
Mormonism, the religion of the Church of the Latter Day Saints which was founded by Joseph Smith in America in the 1820s, originally had as one of its accepted doctrines the practice of polygamy, or marriage between one man and several wives. Following persecution and the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of the Illinois militia, the largest part of the Mormon communion followed Brigham Young to settle in what became the Utah Territory near Salt Lake, a site that was chosen because it was thought that its undesirability as a settling place would deter other emigrants from interfering with and persecuting the Mormons. Here, the Latter Day Saints could openly practice tenets of their religion like polygamy without fear of reprisal. Faced with opposition from the United States Congress, which threatened to dissolve the church's existence as a legal institution, church leaders announced the end of plural marriage in 1890, though the practice continued unofficially into the 20th century.
Polygamy in Utah today
Today, polygamy is still practiced by certain fundamentalist Mormon sects, as was brought to the attention of the world in legal cases such as that of the raid on an FLDS compound in 2008 and television shows such as "Big Love" and the reality show "Sister Wives." In spite of this notoriety, the practice of polygamy is not legal in Utah or in any of the 50 United States of America. However, the Utah Attorney General has stated that law enforcement agencies under his jurisdiction have decided to focus not on polygamy per se, but rather on crimes within polygamous communities such as child abuse, fraud and domestic violence.
Although polygamy is illegal in Utah and every other state in the USA, fundamentalist Mormons continue the practice and often participate in protests and even court challenges to the laws.