Fighting hard to ban same-sex marriage in Utah, the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church and state government turn a blind-eye to polygamy or its euphemistic term “plural marriage.” Today’s polyamory movement, started by 71-year-old religious cult leader Oberon Zell-Ravenheart [b-Timothy Zell] and his wife Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart [b-Diana Moore] in 1990, operates independently of fundamentalist Mormon sects but shares incestuous cult-like operations, despite hiding behind the First Amendment’s freedom of religion. While there are some similarities between the fundamentalist Mormon Church and polyamory, the Ravenhearts don’t subscribe to polygamy, preferring instead to live in communes with multiple partners. Today’s polygamist Mormon sects were brought to life by Warren Jeff’s conviction and imprisonment Nov. 20, 2007.
What forced Utah authorities to go after Jeffs was not the polygamy per se but sexual relations and marriages to minors, violating the state’s child abuse laws. Even with Jeff’s egregious child abuse hiding behind the First Amendment, he has strong backing in Southern Utah, the home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. While the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church renounced polygamy in1890, it looks the other way when it comes to various polygamist cults around the state. Not too far from Salt Lake City, Joe Dargers lives with his cousin-first wife Aline, a lawyer, and two cousin-twin-sisters, Vicki and Valerie. While Aline and Vicki married Joe in 1990, Valerie joined the party later, settling down in their plural marriage, a form of polyamory. Joe insists his plural marriage, despite banned by the Church, is part of Mormon beliefs.
Writing a book about their experience in 2011 titled, “Love Times Three,” Joe went public, not that long after the Mormon Church spend $25 million dollars backing California’s Prop 8 or ban on same-sex marriage. Joe has no problems with polygamy as long as it’s heterosexual. Dargers claim he lives in fear over state laws that make polygamy a crime in Utah. “The fear when I went public four years ago, that fear was very real,” Joe told the AFP, French new service. If Joe really feared legal repercussions, it’s doubtful he would have gone public with a book. “This is a third-degree felony . . . this is serious prison time. My grandfathers were imprisoned, that was a real impact that we felt,” Joe admitted, despite writing a book. Dargers' unholy threesome enters the murky zone where polyamory begins and polygamy ends, despite Joe’s claims of marrying all three women.
Utah is very careful to define marriage as a “union between a man and a woman,” not, a Dargers would like, a legal relationship between men and women. When polygamists, like Dargers, claim he’s married, it’s not officially sanctioned by the state of Utah. Ruling Dec. 13, 2013 that part of the state’s anti-polygamy law was unconstitutional, Judge Clark Waddoups took exception to Utah’s “anti-polygamy” law, insisting they violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. Showing that federal judges get their wires crosses, cohabitation laws aren’t related to polygamy. Polygamy involves marriage, not the Ravenheart’s practice of polyamory or adults living by consensus in communes. “That ‘s been one of great things about the ruling—the decriminalization, and the judge saying basically that the state needs to stay out of people’s bedrooms,” said Alina Dargers.
Alina gets it right when she states Waddoup’s ruling has more to do with adult living arrangements than polygamy. “As long as it’s adults freely choosing what they want, then I don’t fear it would be my place to tell somebody else you can’t choose to love who you love,” said Alina, stating the obvious: That the state has no business interfering with polyamory or so-called “plural” relationships. Once polyamory crosses into polygamy, Waddoups legal ruling doesn’t apply. “The only way I can explain it is like living with adultery on a daily basis, and having the woman come home,” said Marion Munn, a Mormon convert who immigrated from Britain. Munn spent 16 years in a polygamist relationship before deciding it wasn’t for her. She objects to precisely what Judge Waddoups ruled, allowing the First Amendment to protect religious sects engaging in consensual relationships.
Turning a blind eye to polygamy, the Mormon Church has no problem spending millions denying same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals. Whether or not the “official” Mormon Church bans polygamy, the fact remains that it's ubiquitous among various fundamentalist groups, like the Southern-Utah-based FLDS Church. While Jeffs got his comeuppance for child abuse, even federal judges, like Waddoups, can’t distinguish between polygamy or polyamory. When he ruled Dec. 13 that Utah’s cohabitation laws are protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion he’s sadly mistaken. Whether it’s “cohabitation” or same sex marriage, it’s protected by the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. If Utah’s consenting adults wish to live in communes, including taking multiple sex partners, it has nothing to do with religious freedom.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.