SALT LAKE CITY – Calling their lives blessed, more than a dozen children and young adults from polygamist families in Utah spoke at a rally, calling for a change in state laws and the right to live the life and religion they choose.
"Because of our beliefs, many of our people have been incarcerated and had their basic human rights stripped of them, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said a 19-year-old identified only as Tyler. "I didn't come here today to ask for your permission to live my beliefs. I shouldn't have to."
Polygamy is banned in the Utah Constitution and is a felony offense. The rally was unusual because those who practice polygamy typically try to live under the radar.
It drew about 250 supporters to City Hall on Saturday, said Mary Batchelor, co-founder of Principle Voices of Polygamy, which helped organize the event.
The youths, ages 10 to 20, belong to various religious sects, as well as families that practice polygamy independent of religious affiliation. They said they spoke voluntarily. They gave only their first names, saying they were protecting the privacy of their parents.
Dressed in flip-flops and blue jeans, bangs drooping over their eyes, the teens at Saturday's rally talked on cell phones and played rock music, singing lyrics written to defend their family life.
All of the speakers praised their parents and families and said their lives were absent of the abuse, neglect, forced marriages and other "horror stories" sometimes associated with polygamist communities.
Speakers said that with "dozens of siblings" and multiple "moms" they are well supported, encouraged to be educated, and can make their own choices about marriage.
"We are not brainwashed, mistreated, neglected, malnourished, illiterate, defective or dysfunctional," 17-year-old Jessica said. "My brothers and sisters are freethinking, independent people; some who have chosen this lifestyle, while others have branched out to a diversity of religions."
First brought to Utah by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1846, polygamy was abandoned by Mormons as a condition of statehood in 1890. The church now excommunicates members found to be practicing plural marriage. It also disavows those who call themselves "fundamentalist Mormons," although most Utah-based polygamists identify themselves with those terms.
Fundamentalists split with the Mormon church in the 19th century and continue to believe plural marriage is the key to eternal salvation.