New Utah bill aims to stop arranged marriages of underage girls

New Utah bill aims to stop arranged marriages of underage girls (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) - Allison Cooper is a high school senior, with a dream of becoming a police officer; but two years ago, she ran from her polygamous family and the only way of life she had ever known.

At 16, she feared an arranged marriage.

“I didn’t want to get married in the group, and I knew that was coming,” she said. “I knew that I was next.”

Allison said she had been taken to marriage preparation classes from the time she was 11 years old.

On the last night of the Legislature, House Bill 343 passed the Senate after earlier clearing the House. Not a single legislator voted against the measure.

The bill makes it a sexual offense for “threatening to subject a child to participate in a sexual relationship, regardless of whether that is part of a legal or cultural marriage.”

Accounts of arranged marriages are not new.

Years ago, Mary Ann Kingston alleged her polygamous father beat her, as punishment for fleeing an arranged marriage to her uncle when she was 16.

Elissa Wall sued and was awarded millions for an arranged FLDS marriage to a cousin when she was 14.

Laura Fuller, a member of the Kingston group, and an attorney called the bill vague, and said it “could potentially make it sexual abuse when a parent, of any religion, who gives their consent to a 16 or 17-year-old to enter a legal monogamous marriage.”

She said a current statute “protects against forced marriages under the emotional abuse clause.”

But Allison Cooper, who said she was taught to be “scared of the law,” has a message for girls who might face what she once did.

“It’s not wrong that you don’t want to get married,” she said. “The law will help you get out, and succeed, and you don’t have to be afraid.”

The governor is expected to sign the bill.

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