SALT LAKE CITY — Calling their lives blessed, more than a dozen young women and girls from polygamous families in Utah spoke at a rally Saturday, calling for a change in state laws and the right to the religion and lifestyle 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, 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 their parents' privacy.
They played rock music, singing lyrics defending their family life. The speakers said their lives were absent of the abuse, neglect, forced marriages and other "horror stories" sometimes associated with polygamist groups.
Speakers said that with "dozens of siblings" and multiple "moms," they were well supported.
"We are not brainwashed, mistreated, neglected, malnourished, illiterate, defective or dysfunctional," Jessica, 17, said. "My brothers and sisters are freethinking, independent people."
Most Utah-based polygamists identify themselves as "fundamentalist Mormons" -- though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890 and now excommunicates members found to be practicing it. Fundamentalists split with the church in the 19th century and continue to believe plural marriage is a key to eternal salvation.