Rep. Mike Noel went to extreme measures to pass his anti-polygamy bill in the legislature this year. HB99 essentially “re-criminalizes” polygamy after a failed legal challenge temporarily struck down portions of the Utah statute in December 2013.
This year's bill passed the Senate by one vote on the last day of the session just before midnight.
During debate in the House, Rep. Noel pushed stereotypes classifying all individuals in plural families as "child abusers, sex traffickers, welfare and tax cheats" among other things. Additionally, Noel passionately argued the need for HB99's passage to single out a religious minority of consenting adults because they were “not my religion” and because he was "offended by them." Mike Noel is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or mainstream Mormon Church.
Among his antics, most notably, Rep. Noel produced a woman as his star witness, Michelle Neilson. Neilson falsely claimed she was subjected to ritualistic sex abuse by leaders of “all the [polygamist] groups”. This raised red flags for many current and former members of the plural community, primarily due to the fact that different plural traditions rarely interact with one another as she described. Her testimony became even more bizarre when she claimed some of the abuse occurred “on the altar of the Utah Masonic temple”.
With time and a little research, her and Rep. Noel’s testimony was debunked in the Salt Lake Tribune and Neilson was outed as a fraud. However, it was too little too late and the bill had been passed into law.
There is little recourse for people in the plural lifestyle to speak up or defend themselves against these types of smear campaigns.
This is another example of a continued pattern to dehumanize members of the plural community and keep them as second-class citizens. These types of narratives attempt to make it more acceptable for the community at large to abuse and marginalize their neighbors if they don't share their beliefs.
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