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CNN CROSSFIRE

Should Polygamy Be Legal?

Aired May 25, 2001 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: He has five wives and now he faces up to 25 years in prison. Tonight, convicted bigamist Tom Green and three of his wives talk about polygamy.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: In Salt Lake City, Utah polygamist Tom Green, and his wives Hanna, Shirley and Leanne.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It's an old argument: Which has higher authority? The laws of God or the laws of men? In the case of Tom Green, a Utah jury decided the laws of men, rejecting Green's argument that the laws of God gave him the right to have multiple wives and finding him guilty of four counts of bigamy and one count of failing to pay child support. He will be sentenced on June 27 with up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

But that's not all. Green also faces child rape charges, having married his first wife when she was only 13.

But Green, who lives with his five wives and 29 children in the Utah desert, insists they're all just one big happy family, and he was only prosecuted to clean up the state before next summer's Olympics.

What's the real story behind the first polygamy trial in this country in almost 50 years? We find out tonight from the man on the hot seat. Joining us from Salt Lake City, Mr. Tom Green -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Mr. Green, thanks for joining us. Let's be honest here. This is really clearly all about sex. You've married a series of teenage girls. You impregnated a 13-year-old girl.

Now, when most people impregnate 13-year-old girls, they're called child molesters, but somehow you have posited yourself as this champion of religious liberties. Isn't it time to just admit it? This is about sex with young women.

TOM GREEN, CONVICTED BIGAMIST: That's bunk. If this was about sex with young women, I'd get rid of these girls, because they're in their late 20s and 30s, and what's more I would have put them all on birth control and wouldn't have had 25 children in 12 years. And that kind of changes the sexual relationship in a family. We're too busy raising a family to worry about sex, frankly.

CARLSON: Well, some of your wives apparently have left. Let me read you a quote from one them who watched your recent trial in Utah, Allison Ryan, described as an ex-wife of yours. She says: "His performances in the courtroom would have been Oscar-winning. He makes me sick. I mean, he was 16, he was 45."

Now, a 16-year-old girl or 13-year-old girl or 14-year-old girl isn't in a position to make choices about marriage. We don't let 13- year-old girls choose what schools they go to or what churches they go to, what doctors they see. Why is a 13-year-old girl prepared to make this sort of choice, you know, to get married?

T. GREEN: In American society, they're not, but in a polygamous society they are, because they've been prepared the way they have for thousands of years to be ready when nature says they're ready. And our society has postponed the preparation of human beings to be parents and spouses in order to prepare them for the workplace.

We've perpetuated a culture here in Utah for 150 years in which people were ready to handle that adult responsibilities at the time they became physically adults.

My wives have proven over 10 to 15 years that they could and did handle that kind of responsibility. Nobody yet has suggested or shown any way in which these girls have been harmed by getting married and taking on those responsibilities when they did.

PRESS: And I want to point out there, Mr. Green, as we just saw on the screen, you're accompanied today by three of your wives. Hanna, who sits to your right, and to your left, immediate left is Shirley, and then Leanne, and we also welcome all of them to CROSSFIRE.

But before -- we'll have some questions for them in just a minute -- Mr. Green, I want to ask you, you knew -- you live in the United States of America. You live in the state of Utah. You know that bigamy is against the law. You know that having sex with underaged children is against the law. You knew it was against the law. You broke the law. Aren't you getting what you deserve by being convicted by this jury?

T. GREEN: No. No, first of all, on the underage thing, most of these wives here had legal marriage with me in succession, and they were all of legal age at the time they married me. When I married Linda, we were married in Mexico, because we were visiting a polygamous community there. Had we gone to New Hampshire we could have gotten a marriage license in New Hampshire when she was 13, and under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, Utah and every other state would have had to recognize that as a valid marriage, not a rape.

And she's been married to me for 15 years. She's expecting her seventh child. She's happily married. This has nothing to do with rape and is nothing like rape. And as far as the bigamy thing goes, we're not bigamists. I'm a polygamist, and there's a dig difference.

Bigamy is when you defraud the state into thinking you don't have a marriage license when you really do, that you don't have a legal marriage when you really do. And you defraud -- you deceive your wife into thinking she's the only wife when she really isn't. We don't do either one of those things.

There is no statute in Utah law against polygamy. In order to make a bigamist out of me, I was legally single and I was like other people in America who are single and living together without license. I'm not the only guy in America to do that. But the state came in and said, well, we're going to declare that for the last five years you've been married to, let's see, let's pick Linda, and that means that you were cohabiting with the others.

Utah is one of the only states where they include cohabitation as an element of bigamy.

PRESS: But isn't that -- isn't that, just to be honest, a game that you were playing to try to avoid the law? You marry what's called the head wife...

T. GREEN: No, wait a minute. Wait a minute.

PRESS: If I may ask the question first...

T. GREEN: It's not a game.

PRESS: But you -- the way -- I just want to explain to our viewers, you married the head wife and then you married the others but then you divorced them. So you know, you say I'm technically only married to one person, but under common law you're married to five at the same time, three of them sitting alongside of you. So you're just playing a game to try to get around the law, aren't you?

T. GREEN: No, no. It's not playing a game to get around the law. It's following the law, which says that you cannot have more than one license enforced at the time. I was doing what the law said. It said before you get a new marriage license, you've got to get rid of the old one.

You know, it's no different from somebody taking advantage of tax laws to -- for the benefit of their company. You can say, well, he's playing a game to minimize his -- his taxable income. It's not playing a game if the allows you to do it. How can that be playing a game?

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Green, I'd like to ask one of the Mrs. Greens present a question, your wife Hanna, if I could. Mrs. Green, it strikes me that your husband is about to default on his end of the bargain here. Here he has 29 children, four on the way, and because -- precisely because he sought publicity by going on "Jerry Springer" and other shows he was singled out, among all the polygamists in your state, for prosecution, because he basically waved it in the face of the authorities. And for that reason, he may spend decades in prison, leaving you, your co-wives and all your children, your 34 children, without a father. So he's basically fallen down on his end, hasn't he?

HANNA GREEN, WIFE OF TOM GREEN: Fallen down on his end -- is that what he said?

T. GREEN: Yeah.

CARLSON: Well, he's going to leave you without a husband and leave your children without a father because he sought publicity as a polygamist.

H. GREEN: He's a father and a husband, and even if he goes to prison, he still will be (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and that's what he is. Nothing can change that.

T. GREEN: I never...

LEANNE GREEN, TOM GREEN'S WIFE: If I could answer that, I don't think that Tom has fallen down on his part at all. Tom has always been there for us. He has been there for his children every single day. And I think if anything, the state, by coming after Tom, is the one at fault here, because Tom is just trying to build a family and take care of what he has started here. And he would continue to do that if the state would have left him alone. s.

CARLSON: Yes, but Mrs. Green, did it occur to you in the other occasions when your husband sought national publicity on television programs, by giving interviews to newspaper reporters...

(CROSSTALK)

... that he might be jeopardizing your family by doing that?

SHIRLEY GREEN, TOM GREEN'S WIFE: Our family has never sought publicity. The media has always came to us, and we -- since we've been willing to answer their questions. And I don't think that's a crime in America.

L. GREEN: And we have a right to speak out and to talk about our religion. Every other religion does. That's not a crime.

PRESS: Let me...

T. GREEN: Well...

PRESS: Go ahead, Tom, go ahead.

T. GREEN: In the hundreds of interviews that we've done in the last 15 years, we have never once sought an interview to explain our lifestyle. We have dozens and dozens of media people come to us all the time, saying "What is this polygamy thing that's been going on for 150 years in Utah? Why do you do it and how does it work?" And in an effort to dispel the myths and the misunderstanding about plural marriage in Utah, we've brought the media right into our home and said, come and spend time with our family, see what this is about.

Anybody that has taken the time to objectively look at our family goes away convinced that this is not about sex, this is not about domination or subjugation or exploitation. It's about being a family, and that's all it's about.

PRESS: Well, but I want to follow up on the media question, if I can. I mean, the district attorney who prosecuted you, Mr. Green, said he would never had known you were there. I mean, there are some -- what? -- 20,000 or 30,000 polygamists hidden out in the desert of Utah. He would never have known you were there except he saw you on "Dateline." I mean, so aren't -- aren't you...

T. GREEN: He appeared with us on "Dateline."

PRESS: Aren't you your -- well, aren't you your own worst enemy by going out in public and bragging about it? You wouldn't be in the fix you are today if you hadn't done that.

T. GREEN: Brag -- I...

PRESS: Well, appearing on national television.

T. GREEN: It's amazing -- it's amazing to me, you know, if somebody explains -- explains their lifestyle they're bragging about it. I've never bragged about it and I've never attempted to convince anybody else this is what they should do.

PRESS: Well, let's just say appearing on national television.

T. GREEN: All right, you mean -- you mean agreeing with requests, like yours, to explain ourselves? That's what we've been doing for 15 years. You guys come to us. We didn't go to you. You guys come and say, what are you doing? And we do it, and then they say, look at this guy going out, seeking the spotlight, bragging about his life. We don't brag about our life but I will tell you this: We are not ashamed of our life. We have a damn good family.

PRESS: I understand that -- go ahead, Mrs. Green.

S. GREEN: If somebody needs to prosecute our the family, they need do it on the merits. They need to do it for polygamy, not bigamy. Bigamy is deceit and fraudful and that's not what we are about. If they want to do something about our family, they should do it with what we are. Because what Mr. Leavitt has brought forth on our family is lies.

PRESS: I just -- go ahead.

L. GREEN: Not only that, but there are hundreds of polygamists that Leavitt knows about in his county, and he chooses not prosecute them. The reason that he chose to prosecute Tom is because we went on the same show with him and embarrassed him.

PRESS: My question... L. GREEN: Not only that, but Mormon, the Mormon Profit and all and all different kinds of religions get on the TV and express their beliefs. I mean, are we going to prosecute them?

PRESS: My question exactly.

T. GREEN: When the Pope gets on TV is he bragging about his religion, is he seeking the spotlight?

PRESS: I think we are talking about a case here that is an incident or practice which is against the law, and we appreciate your appearing on CROSSFIRE, but I will point out, this is after you have been convicted. My question is simply, in Utah where there seems to be this practice of don't ask, don't tell with all these polygamists, the only reason you were singled out is because you are so far out in front.

And I am just asking you, looking back now, don't you regret now, maybe being so available and making yourself so available to national television shows?

T. GREEN: You know, if somebody doesn't come out of the closet sooner or later, the world will never understand that this is really about a harmless and wholesome situation of building families. And if somebody's not willing to take the risk of prosecution and prison, then it's going to continue to lay under the surface and fester like it has done for 150 years with all the misconception and prejudice that society has.

S. GREEN: You know, I think that it's time that people of our faith shouldn't have to be in fear anymore. They need to be able to live their life and their religion the way they want to without fearing the government.

T. GREEN: Well, polygs are people too.

CARLSON: We will explore that question in greater depth with Tom Green and three of his wives, the three Mrs. Greens, and Bill Press and I will return in just a moment on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's been practiced since the dawn of time but illegal in the continental United States since the dawn of the last century. It's polygamy, and it's still around. Now, for the first time in 50 years, a court in Utah has convicted a man of having more than one wife.

Was the prosecution a victory for the rights of women and children, or a blow to religious liberty? We'll ask the man himself, convicted bigamist Tom Green, who joins us tonight from Utah -- Bill.

PRESS: Yes, I would like to ask Shirley Green a question, if I may, and some of the other wives may want to jump in. Because there's the issue not just of multiple wives, there's the issue of an older man having sex with children. And, Shirley, I just -- I know it's a personal question, but I would like to ask you: How young were you when you first got sexually involved with Mr. Green?

S. GREEN: I was almost 16 years old, and you know, when you fall in love with someone and you really love them, their age does not matter. You don't even notice.

PRESS: So I mean, do you really approve of older men, 45, 50, having sex with 13, 14, 15, 16-year-olds? And what if one of your daughters, what if Mr. Green wanted to have sex with one of your daughters? Would that bother you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Come on.

S. GREEN: Yes, that would really bother me. That's sick.

PRESS: So you draw the line there. But do you draw the line with 12-year-olds or 13-year-olds?

L. GREEN: What do you mean do we draw the line there? Of course Tom is not going to have sex with his daughters. This is not about sex. If this was about sex, why would Tom be so willing to risk going to jail to stand up for his religious beliefs and why would every single one of us be so willing to stand by him for 25 years and wait for him to get out.

It's truly interesting --

PRESS: My question is, don't have you any problems with older men having sex with very young girls, 13, 14, 15, before they are really old enough...

S. GREEN: I think that depends on the situation.

L. GREEN: You know, I have Mormon friends that have married at a young age and their husbands were 10 to 15 years older than them. What's wrong with that? That's another religion. It's not just that it's polygamy. And by the way, 14 is the legal age that we got married at. We got a marriage license.

S. GREEN: If my daughter was at the legal age to be married and she fell in love with an older man, I would rather see her make a serious commitment to a marriage with this older man than to do of what most teenagers in America do today and just go around and have sex wherever and with...

CARLSON: Shirley Green, if I could just follow up on that, I think the question is not, is the wife making a serious commitment to the husband, but is the husband making a serious commitment to the wife?

Now if Tom Green, your husband, is 52 or 53 years old at this point, and some of his wives are in their 20s, it stands to reason that your husband will be long gone by the time you are still young and vigorous and your children are small. That doesn't strike me as much of a commitment to your long-term care?

S. GREEN: That really bothers me that Tom is the one being prosecuted because we see ourselves as a married couple. And if Tom's going to be convicted, I think everyone one of us ladies ought to be convicted as well, because this is a united effort we have here. This is not about Tom Green. This is about Tom Green's family.

CARLSON: Well, I think that that's an interesting question. I mean you're all consenting adults at this point anyway. But you have more than 30 children or you will, and what happens to them now that your husband may be going off to the slammer? I mean they are left without a father. Don't they matter in all this?

S GREEN: I agree with you that it's a very sad thing that is happening and I feel really bad for our family, and we will struggle but we'll do it. But at the same time, that's not the point here. The point is the that we were consenting adults when we married Tom.

T. GREEN: Under Utah law.

S. GREEN: Under Utah law. Why just Tom? Why not us?

T. GREEN: You know in Florida right now, there is a 14-year-old that is being tried as an adult because they said in certain situations, children in their teens actually can make adult commitments and handle adult responsibilities.

You know, one of the things that we have learned in 15 years of doing interviews with the media, is that you -- really what people want to know about is what's really in their hearts and what the motivating factor is. That's what they see in our family. The people who have love in their hearts, that's what they see existing in this family, and people with lust in their hearts, that's all they see in our family.

PRESS: Tom Green, you have suggested that this prosecution has maybe a political motive, that the state of Utah knows that the eyes of the world are going to be on the state of Utah in the summer of 2002 for the summer Olympics. During...

T. GREEN: It's the winter Olympics.

PRESS: I am sorry. Winter. Do you really believe they came after you just to, you know, kind of get you out of the way for the Olympics?

T. GREEN: I believe that's a major factor. There was an article in the newspaper last year by a state senator explaining that Utah needed to clean up its third-world image before the Olympics by getting rid of polygamy, and so they began a new round of polygamous pogroms in Utah.

PRESS: You were actually quoted in "TIME" magazine recently as saying that you might want to have some fun with the Olympics. You were quoted saying, quote: "We even thought we would set up a polygamy booth at the airport and sell t-shirts with pictures of my wives inside the five Olympic rings."

T. GREEN: It was a joke, and I didn't realize the reporter took it seriously enough to write it down.

CARLSON: Now, very quickly Mr. Green, you are essentially, from what I can tell, making a libertarian argument. You have staked out this position, you want to be left alone by government in order to practice your religion, et cetera, and et cetera. And yet, you have accepted welfare on behalf of your family. Your argument is the government forced it on you, but of course, government never forced welfare on anybody. Can't we agree...

T. GREEN: I never said the government forced the welfare on me.

CARLSON: ... that if you are going to have 29 children, by your choice, that you ought to forego welfare?

T. GREEN: I -- the government -- I never said government forced welfare on us. What I have explained is that we were taking care of ourselves and supporting ourselves just fine, until -- until we were evicted from the mobile home park because we were polygamists, and in moving our homes, a drunk driver struck one and demolished it. The wind came along, demolished the others. We moved into an old cabin on the homestead and it burned down in the middle of the winter in the middle of the night...

CARLSON: Wait, you still -- those are hard-luck cases, but you still took welfare.

T. GREEN: But wait a minute. We lost everything we had, including Shirley's 3-year-old son. The state came to us, and said, look: "This is a safety net that society has prepared." I didn't prepare that. They said: "You guys have more than qualified for the long time for aid you have never requested or gotten."

But then we needed it. And we did use government assistance to get back on our feet, and we terminated the assistance and made arrangements to repay it, and the state said that they would set me up on payments, but instead of setting me up on payments, like everybody else gets, they prosecuted me. I am the only man in Utah who has ever been prosecuted for not supporting his children who lives in the home and works to support his children.

It was done as a political thing to add weight to the bigamy charges, just to make polygamists look bad.

PRESS: The Greens, we are out of time. We want to thank you for joining us on CROSSFIRE tonight. Mr. Tom Green, thank you, and...

T. GREEN: You are welcome.

PRESS: ... and Hanna, Shirley and Leanne Green, thank you very much for coming onto CROSSFIRE. Tucker Carlson and I will be right back with some closing comments on the first polygamy trial in the last 50 years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: You can almost respect Tom Green, as an outlaw, someone who chooses to live outside society, except he's not! First of all, he blames the press for their lusty questions, and two and most appalling, he took welfare. That is outside the bounds, that's against the rules if you are an outlaw, and he broke them.

PRESS: Yeah, we are paying so he can reproduce like a rabbit. Here's the other thing that bothers me is they hide behind the cloak of religion. I mean, this is -- if you look at what it really is, child abuse, I think it's rape, it's welfare fraud, and they say: "Oh, no, we're doing all this because of our religion."

CARLSON: My religion forced me to rob a liquor store, you will hear that.

PRESS: Yeah. But remember, polygs are people too!

CARLSON: They certainly are.

PRESS: We learned something.

From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I am Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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