ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- Polygamy became a main topic as candidates for Utah Attorney General debated in southern Utah -- an area that's home to one of the state's most notable polygamist communities.
The Wednesday debate at Dixie State College's Dunford Auditorium began with discussion of the practice, which is outlawed by the state Constitution.
Democratic candidate Greg Skordas called polygamy an embarrassment and a crime against women and children that should be prosecuted as spousal and child abuse.
Incumbent Republican Mark Shurtleff brought up his efforts at fighting polygamy and prosecuting related crimes since he became attorney general.
"This is not focusing on religion," Shurtleff said.
Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough said the practice, in a religious setting, is constitutionally protected. He said he would not prosecute polygamy as attorney general, but would enforce welfare and abuse cases.
The southern Utah town of Hildale is a stronghold of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The FLDS church is different from the mainstream Mormon church, which has disavowed polygamy for more than a century.
The issue of prosecuting polygamy has grown over the past several years since the prosecutions of prominent polygamists Tom Green and Rodney Holm. Holm is a former Hildale officer who was convicted of bigamy and an unlawful sex with a minor.
The Attorney General candidates also debated the proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution that would ban gay marriage. All the candidates shared similar views against the amendment. They candidates released a joint statement recently opposing the amendment because of legal worries about its second section, which they said could hurt hospital visitation and funeral planning rights for unmarried heterosexual couples.
Shurtleff said he would support an amendment similar to the one proposed. But, he added, Amendment 3 goes too far and threatens fundamental rights.
Skordas said Amendment 3 does not belong in what he called "as close to a sacred document as we have in our society."
McCullough said he wonders why the legislature felt it was important to bring the amendment before voters.
"I wonder if they're trying to make a statement that certain types of people are more welcome here than others," McCullough said.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)