Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

For decades the state has let a feudal colony of fundamentalist Mormons force underage girls into illegal polygamous marriages

The fundamentalist church has long retained Salt Lake City's Snow, Christensen & Martineau, one of Utah's oldest and most politically connected law firms. The firm represents the church in an array of issues mostly focused on defending its steadfast belief that the First Amendment protects its right to practice polygamy.

The FLDS' professed entitlement collides head-on with the Arizona Constitution and United States Supreme Court opinions.

Article XX of the Arizona Constitution explicitly forbids polygamy. It states: "Polygamous or plural marriages, or polygamous co-habitation, are forever prohibited within this State."

Located on the Arizona Strip, Colorado City is cut off from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon to the south and the Colorado River to the east.
Located on the Arizona Strip, Colorado City is cut off from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon to the south and the Colorado River to the east.
The Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall.
John Dougherty
The Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall.

Likewise, the United States Supreme Court has held fast in its prohibition of polygamy since its landmark case on religious freedom in the 1879 decision of Reynolds v. United States.

The Supreme Court concluded that to excuse Reynolds' practice of polygamy on the basis of religion would be to "make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could only exist in name under such circumstance."

While the Arizona Legislature has never enacted a criminal statute that provides for penalties for practicing polygamy, it does have a bigamy statute. Bigamy is defined as having two civil marriages that appear to be legal. The Colorado City polygamists typically only have a civil marriage for the first wife. The subsequent marriages are "spiritual" unions.

Utah, however, defines bigamy to include cohabitation while either person is legally married to somebody else. The broader definition has helped Utah successfully prosecute polygamy.

In May 2001, a Utah jury convicted polygamist Tom Green on four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport. Green was sentenced to up to five years in prison. Last year, Green who is not associated with the FLDS in Colorado City was found guilty of child rape and sentenced from five years to life in prison.

Utah stepped up the pressure on polygamists last fall, when the state filed felony charges against Colorado City cop Rodney Holm, accusing him of bigamy and unlawful sex with a minor stemming from his spiritual marriage to Ruth Stubbs. The case is awaiting trial.

And last month, the Utah House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that makes marrying a second wife who is under 18 a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Arizona, meanwhile, has taken no legislative steps to address problems in Colorado City, the largest openly polygamous enclave in the United States. Though it would be naive to think that criminalizing polygamy in Arizona would eradicate the practice among fundamentalists, enforcement of such a statute would have a profound effect on life in Colorado City.

If polygamous living were criminalized, the state would have more leverage to break the religion's grip on the town council, the school board and the police which are all controlled by polygamists.

State Senator Linda Binder (R-Lake Havasu) has been leading a lonely effort to enact tougher laws to address abuses in Colorado City. She says she has found no support from the Legislature to criminalize polygamy, much less tighten bigamy laws.

"The Legislature is not interested in the least," she says flatly.

Its reluctance may be partially rooted in fear.

"I don't think they want another Waco," she says.

Attorney General Goddard says his office is working with the Utah attorney general's office to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem, continuing an effort begun under Napolitano.

Goddard, however, says he has been forced to lay off several key employees who were investigating the Colorado City case because of budget reductions imposed by the Legislature. Despite the layoffs, sources say the attorney general's investigation is continuing and an arrest appears imminent of a prominent polygamist who allegedly impregnated underage "spiritual wives."

Ultimately, Binder says, she would like to find ways to get tough with the fundamentalists by cutting off state funding to Colorado City government and police.

"Maybe we can dis-incorporate the town," she speculated.

That is exactly the tack the federal government took toward the Mormon Church 120 years ago. Historian Bistline says federal laws passed in the 1880s finally forced the mainstream church in Salt Lake City to abandon polygamy in 1890. The laws, which applied only to U.S. territories, stripped the church of property, banned polygamists from holding public office and threatened the same kind of forced dis-incorporation that Binder suggested would work today.

But beyond legalizing that kind of action in Arizona, Bistline says, legislators could "enact some laws to put [fundamentalist] leaders in prison."

Mayor Charm

Colorado City Mayor Daniel Barlow pulled out a tape recorder, pressed the record button and set the machine on the conference table inside the Colorado City Town Hall.

A distinguished-looking man with a salesman's smile, he's the perfect front man to glad-hand politicians across the state while promoting Colorado City's carefully crafted, family-values image.

Emerging from his late-model Cadillac dressed in a well-tailored gray suit, Barlow looks like Hollywood's version of the earnest, small-town mayor.

Behind the veneer is a man who knows how to get down and dirty.

Fifty years ago, Barlow was among a posse who set off dynamite charges before dawn to alert the town of Governor Howard Pyle's ill-fated attempt to dislodge polygamists by sending in the state police and national guard to arrest most of the men in town.

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Ken, (with regards to your comment on Apr 20th, 2008, 07:50)

I don�t believe what you suffered had anything to do with God; it�s a power struggle being fought by the truly weak and unstable inhabitants of this word, desperately trying to convince themselves of their self-righteousness when it�s so plain to see all they want is to be impervious to our laws and poke fun at morality. These people could sit in front of a mirror and look themselves in the eye and truly believe what they are doing is correct, like the saying �as happy as a pig in s**t� these creatures have never been educated to question, just to accept without question, so have no comparison. As for taking your own life, would you hang yourself in a barn cos the pigs got in the shit again?

What I�m trying to say is that you have broken away from that way of life, as you understood it be wrong, despite the fact it was the way you were raised, so you must see you are a very special, insightful and strong willed person to go against your family, your blood, and do what is obviously right and moral in this very corrupt world, this world needs more people like yourself to stand up for what is write, no matter what the consequences, don�t deprive the world..


Living without freedom.

Being born into the Polygamist Cult,FLDS Headquarter at the time was colorado city AZ, Being a child of the Black Family, knowing of others that have left (My couple of Uncles), that joined Satan and the evil people, outsiders the Gentiles as they were called,

It just meant that we would have to make up for the wrong that we had done to the community by being Pure and doing everything that the only proffit of god told us, even if it meant Killing anyone that he had asked us to even our parrents or brothers.

This life was just a test, a test to see if we are ready to Join Jesus in heaven, To build up the kingdom of heaven we need children and wives to bring with us in the afterlife, there are three levels of heaven and to be on the highest level where Jesus is then we need 3 wives, God knows when it is time for us to have children when girls can have children then they must have a child every 11 months and we will follow there cycles so we know when the time is right.

I felt bad for the Gentiles, Asking my Father "Is it fair that they are going to hell?" and the answer was well they might have another Chance but a new world will have to be built but God did that in 6 days so anything is possible.

Then he would add but since you have been chosen by god to be a part of Zion then if you were to leave then God would through your soul into the melting pot of Hell, where you would no longer exist in the afterlife,

I asked allot of questions wich was not good it meant that the evil spirit as my grandma taught me was doubting my faith in God (blind faith),

I remember being punished as a Child, Water torture was the method used by my grandma, I remember her water boarding my younger Brothers, to the point of breaking there spirit (spanking them then runing water over there face from the kitchen sink) , Grandma would say that the young toddlers were susceptible to evil spirits entering there bodies and that by doing this they would leave, Then as we got older around 9 or so she would change the methods of purifying our bodies by as she would say "Shocking the Devil out of us" throwing ice water in our face and making me angry at what point I would run as she would have my Cousins chasing me with water around the Yard and running away.

Remembering why I hate my brothers, I was always active when I was younger, running ect. my grandma would resort to giving me enema's as a form of discipline, she would ask my older brothers was (me) good when I was gone? and they would say nope, I would be like please don't lie, (They would mock me saying how does it feel to have water up my butt?)and laugh at me and my grandma would administer the water to the point I could not hold, crying the whole time, I would talk to my parents, and they would never listen. even to this day,

My mom says that grandma was just trying to help me and I was probly sick. no I was not sick my family was and has been 5 years since I have talked to my family, My dad is dead and my family is living to the best of there ability.

It has been 15 years since being kicked out by my Mom and I was 16 at the time and I still feel sad, Should I have just taken my life when I was younger, so much pain and unhappiness in the name of God.

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