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The BBC's Johnny Dymond
"The family's fate is now in the hands of the court"
 real 56k

Monday, 14 May, 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Polygamy on trial in Utah

A court in Utah, the traditional home of the once-polygamous Mormon sect, is to hear the American state's first bigamy case for 50 years on Monday.

The defendant, 51-year-old Tom Green, lives with his five wives and some two dozen children in a trailer compound in the western desert.

He says thousands of others lead similar lives in secret.

The BBC Washington correspondent says he has become so well known that the state felt obliged to act.

Mr Green has been excommunicated from the Mormon church, which originally embraced polygamy but banned it in 1890.

He is also charged with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl whom he slept with many years ago.

You stick your head out of the hole, the government will shoot it off

Tom Green

The trial is being seen as a test of public opinion towards a lifestyle that has recently started to shed its traditional veil of secrecy.


Mr Green has appeared on a series of TV chat shows including Dateline NBC and Jerry Springer, promoting his lifestyle.

He says he is being made a scapegoat because he refused to keep his lifestyle quiet.

Tom Green
Tom Green says he has been made a scapegoat
"My crime isn't so much being a polygamist in Utah, there are tens of thousands of those ... my crime is being a polygamist that didn't keep his mouth shut and stay hidden," says Mr Green

"That's been the unwritten rule for 50 years in Utah," he adds. "You'll pretend you don't exist and we'll pretend you don't exist."

Prosecutor David Leavitt has said he never would have known about Mr Green if he had not appeared on television.

There are an estimated 30,000 polygamists living in the western United States, but only a handful have ever been charged.

I like the association I have with my sister wives and with all of our children

Cari Bjorkman Green
Critics say polygamists' patriarchal societies foster child abuse and incest.

"It is a long journey that we have been on to get the attention of the state to get them to recognise some of the abuses that go on in these groups," says Rowenna Erickson, a former plural wife who has now become an anti-polygamy activist.

Polygamy arrived in Utah in the 1840s, when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in the state.

Mormon leaders believed the practice was required by God because some Old Testament prophets took more than one wife.

In 1854 the Republican Party termed polygamy and slavery the "twin relics of barbarism, " and it was outlawed by Congress in 1862.

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29 Feb 00 | Africa
Polygamist marries 100 times
11 Dec 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Polygamy thrives in Utah
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