A dozen picketers disguised in calico veils and sunglasses chanted pro-polygamy slogans while their spokeswomen argued with former polygamist women.
The peculiar scene over the equally peculiar practice of plural marriage took place Monday in front of the offices of Tapestry of Polygamy -- an anti-polygamy group founded by former polygamist wives.Mary Potter, one picketer who made her identity known, said the hourlong demonstration was held because "we are tired of Tapestry's threats and lies. They say polygamy is synonymous with abuse and incest, when in fact we are very family oriented. We are nurturing parents, and our children do not want to see us in jail."
Tapestry has been urging state and local officials for more than a year to enforce the state's constitutional prohibition against plural marriage.
Two protesters said they disguised themselves because "we have to live in fear, and we don't want to lose our children."
Sidney Anderson was among the most vociferous in the pro-plural-marriage group called the Women's Religious Liberties Union. Smiling, arms folded, she told Tapestry board member Vicky Prunty that polygamist wives in Utah are like the Southern blacks who fought for their civil rights during the 1960s.
"Call me Rosa Parks," Anderson said after telling reporters she is one of two wives in a polygamist marriage. "It takes a few like myself to stand up for my civil rights."
Anderson asked for a drink of water from Tapestry's office. When Tapestry member Carmen Thompson said no, that she'd bring her a Diet Coke, Anderson shouted, "You won't let me drink from your water fountain? We are a persecuted minority, and I wish the whole black community would stand behind (polygamists) as a fellow minority."
Prunty looked pained as she said, "We are not out to persecute you. Tapestry is here to support women and children who come to us out of polygamy."
"Freedom of religion," the demonstrators said together in well-modulated voices.
The exchange grew more heated when Women's Religious Liberties Union member Carol Smith spoke to a Tapestry supporter.
"You're just afraid your husband is going to get another wife if polygamy is made legal," Smith said.
While both sides exchanged barbs, a passing motorist, apparently looking toward the protest, slammed into the back of a white car parked across the street from Tapestry's office at 1268 W. 500 North. The white sedan, creaking and groaning, rolled around the corner and was impaled on a boulder in a parking lot.
It was Prunty's car. Tapestry members Carmen Thompson and Rowenna Erickson stepped forward to talk with Anderson while Prunty walked over to police officers examining her car.
"Don't bother us with your lies; we are happy polygamist wives," the protesters repeated, their sidewalk march uninterrupted.
"We have had more than 300 calls from refugees from polygamist marriages since the first of the year," said Tapestry's Thompson.
The protest gave Tapestry's women a good opportunity to speak about their goals, said Thompson.
"We welcome open debate," she said. Thompson said her organization does not seek to harass polygamists. "We only ask the county prosecutor to look at cases of obvious abuse on a case-by-case basis."
Erickson, who helped found Tapestry after she left a plural marriage of 34 years, said she felt sorry for the protesters.
"I know how they feel," she said. "It took me a long time to find the courage to leave, and I had to fight the brainwashing."