'THEY WANT ME to marry my father-I don't want to!' But no
one took Utah teen LeeAnn Beagley's pleadings to her high school counselor
seriously enough to prevent her fundamentalist Mormon family from pulling her
from school. At age 14, LeeAnn became the seventh wife of her 43-year-old
stepfather, Tom Green, and then the mother of five of his children.
Currently with five "wives" (two left him) and 30 children, Green told me
at a meeting in Salt Lake City surrounded by his clan that he is "building a
patriarchal family." However, his kingdom is likely to crumble at a trial this
spring in Provo, Utah, where he will face four state felony charges of bigamy,
a felony charge of criminal non-support and a separate child rape offense.
Prosecutors say Green has deliberately violated federal and state polygamy
laws in his marriages to three sets of sisters, which include the daughters of
two of his original wives. Neither is Green's polygamous lifestyle a protected
religious freedom under the First Amendment. More importantly, however, the
future of tens of thousands of women and children in America now trapped in
plural marriage will be affected by how responsibly the criminal justice system
responds. And for the past 50 years it has not.
"No one ever looks at what's happened to the women," Juab County Prosecutor
David Leavitt told me at a meeting in his office in Nephi. "They never see the
heartache or the inward soul of the woman who's been 'drug' into it."
The fact that the trial was recently moved from Utah's outback to a more
secure courtroom in the ski town and film capital that Robert Redford made
famous is an indication of what a high-profile case this has become. Green and
his family have now appeared on so many television talk shows that they are a
well-rehearsed act. The danger in the media romance is that the charges
couldn't be more serious.
Unfortunately, Green's case is not atypical. There are an array of
self-styled "religious" polygamists throughout the West and parts of the
Southeast, including many now advertising on the Internet. The polygamist
population in America, according to historians, is 50,000 to 100,000 and
doubling every decade. Numbers are more definitive in cases where polygamist
communities are incorporated towns.
Ex-wives and countless others who have fled polygamy report the patriarchs
of these communities use religion as a guise for pedophilia and incest. They
build a power base by sexually enslaving young women and eroding their
self-esteem. Women are kept isolated from mainstream society, ignorant,
financially dependent and pregnant, eventually physically consumed by multiple
births. They are indoctrinated that they will go to Hell unless they consent to
plural marriage; this remains part of the scripture of not only the
fundamentalist Mormon church, but the main Mormon church(although the the
latter abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890). To remove this covenant
from the text, say believers, would unravel the religion.
Why has polygamy not been eradicated in America, even though it has been
illegal ever since the time of Abe Lincoln? And why was white slavery allowed
to flourish in the United States while black slavery was crushed? In the case
of Utah, Idaho and other states, the answer may be that the early settlers were
white Mormon polygamists. In fact, Utah's leading officials today, including
Gov. Mike Leavitt and his brother, David Leavitt, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch,
are descendents of those pioneers.
Utahns, therefore, have mixed feelings as to whether polygamy should be
prosecuted or decriminalized.
Only a handful of people have even been charged with bigamy in Utah since
the 1953 police raid of the polygamist enclave on the Utah-Arizona border,
known then as Short Creek, and now known as Hildale/Colorado City. The
operation failed because the media highlighted the anguish of families being
separated and the court didn't know what to do with the children.
However, law enforcement has looked the other way because of sexism. There
is a certain acceptance of the sexual exploitation of women in American
society. Men have difficulty in understanding the extent to which women
internalize the sexual experience. And they still share political power with
Polygamist police who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but who are
answerable to "God" and the priesthood, pose a unique problem. In the case of
the incorporated polygamist town of Colorado City that technically lies within
Mohave County, District Attorney Bob Ekstrom said police do not answer to him
or anyone; they are part of an incorporated city.
Lenore Holm, an apostate who still lives in Colorado City, should know. She
now faces eviction by the fundamentalist Mormon church, which owns the land
her house is built on, because she refused to give consent to her daughter
Nichole to marry into polygamy. Holm said she appealed to the media and state
and federal authorities when police failed to respond to her calls and a
written request for a rape investigation of her daughter. Holm's case will be
heard in April in Kingman, Ariz.
Arizona State Rep. Linda Binder says Colorado City is a hotbed of
pedophilia and racketeering, where there is ongoing bilking of public
assistance dollars for multiple wives who claim they are single mothers. As a
result, Arizona's state attorney general has now launched an investigation. But
the failure of law enforcement has also to do with lack of
resources-personnel, computers, computer literacy, education and funds.
Case in point: It's taken Juab County Prosecutor David Leavitt two years to
bring the Green case to trial, although he says government should either
enforce the law or change it.