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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A bill meant to protect girls from being married into polygamist relationships was overwhelmingly approved by the Utah House Tuesday.
The measure makes child bigamy -- marrying a second wife who is under the age of 18 -- a second-degree felony, punishable by one to 15 years in prison. The penalty for bigamy is zero to five years.
The marrying of teenage girls is common among some of Utah's isolated polygamist communities, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has previously said. His office drafted the legislation.
Tuesday's 68-4 vote sends the legislation to the Senate.
"I think it's many, many years too late," said Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful. She said there are rumors of these underage marriages in Davis County and remembers that when she was in junior high and high school, friends were forced into these marriages.
"Late is better than never, let's get this passed," she said.
State law says that when an adult has sex with someone age 16 or 17, they are guilty of a third-degree felony if they are 10 years older than the teen. In addition, a person is guilty of a third-degree felony if they have sex with a 14- or 15-year-old if the person is more than four years older than the teen.
The crime of rape of a child, a first-degree felony, occurs when anyone has sex with a child under 14.
The state also has two laws in place that were meant to address underage polygamist marriages.
Parents can be charged with a third-degree felony if they allow a minor to enter into a marriage prohibited by law. Another law makes it a third-degree felony for anyone who performs a marriage of a minor that is prohibited by law. Third-degree felonies are punishable by zero to five years in prison.
"We need to protect these young girls," said the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Susan Lawrence, R-Salt Lake City.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)