The Utah state Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday effectively to decriminalize polygamy among consenting adults, reducing penalties for a practice with deep religious roots in the predominantly Mormon state.
The bill, which would treat the offense of plural marriage as a simple infraction on par with a parking ticket, now moves to the Utah House of Representatives, where it is likely to face greater resistance.
The bill swiftly cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a vote of 29-0 with little discussion.
Under current law, polygamy - typically involving a man who cohabitates with and purports to marry more than one wife - is classified as a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
If the Senate bill becomes law, punishments for plural marriage would be limited to fines of up to $750 and community service.
However, fraudulent bigamy - in which an individual obtains licenses to marry more than one spouse without their knowledge, or seeks to wed someone underage without her consent - remains a felony.
The chief sponsor of the measure, Senator Deirdre Henderson, said the intent of the bill is not to legalize polygamy but to lower the penalties so those from polygamous communities who are victims of crimes can come forward without fear of being prosecuted themselves.
It also would make it easier for otherwise law-abiding polygamists to obtain access to critical services such as medical or mental health care, education or even employment without fear, she said.