Polygamy and polyamory decriminalization becomes law in Utah
|Kody Brown poses with his wives (from left) Janelle, Christine, Meri and Robyn in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show Sister Wives.|
The victory that the polygamous Kody Brown family won in federal court last December became final with a judge's ruling yesterday (August 27th) — unless the state of Utah succeeds in overturning it on a possible appeal.
Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled last December 13th that Utah cannot continue to outlaw cohabitation with another person while married, nor can it outlaw people calling each other "husbands" and "wives" informally as long as they do not purport to have more than one official marriage. Yesterday, Judge Waddoups additionally ruled that the Browns are entitled to attorneys' fees, settling the last count in the case. It is now legal for three or more people to live together as partners in Utah.
At least for now. The state has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.
The Browns are members of a small Mormon sect, but legally they are identical to a secular polyamorous group. They claim only one legal marriage among them (between Kody and his first wife); the others file their taxes as single and do not otherwise claim marriage benefits. Attempting to have two marriage licenses active at once remains against the law.
A National Public Radio story, with links:
Federal Judge Strikes Down Part Of Utah's Polygamy Ban
...The case is high profile partly because the suit was brought forth by the Brown family, the stars of the TLC show Sister Wives. It's also important because as it works its way through the appeals process, it has the potential to become a landmark.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reads the decision, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups says the part of the law that prohibits cohabitation between adults to whom they are not legally married violates both the First and 14th Amendments.
The paper adds:
"Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
"Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.
"In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns' constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns' rights to free speech, religion and equal protection."
...In a blog post, the Brown family's lawyer, Jonathan Turley, said he hopes that the AG will not appeal the case. He said that Americans should not fear prosecution solely because of the structure of their family.
"Neither the Attorney General nor the state of Utah should fight a ruling that reaffirmed freedom of religion and equal protection," Turley wrote. "Utah is a state that was founded by citizens seeking those very rights against government abuse. Utah is a better place because of the courageous decision of Judge Waddoups and the commitment of the Brown family in defense of our Constitution."
See the original (Aug. 28, 2014).
The judge's ruling.
Good backgrounder from Buzzfeed, with more links: Polygamy Is Legal In Utah, For Now.
From an Associated Press story:
"This was a historic ruling that I believe will stand the test of time," [the Browns' lawyer Jonathan] Turley said. He said the family would continue the legal battle to an appeals court or even the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The Browns said they were forced to leave Utah for Las Vegas in 2011 in fear of prosecution. Turley said Wednesday he didn't know if the Brown family would return in the wake of the ruling.
"The important thing is that they now can move back to Utah," Turley said, adding that the family has missed the state. "They now have the choice."
Fundamentalist Mormon polygamists believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church strictly prohibits the practice.
Utah governor Gary Herbert is urging his attorney general to appeal. From thenewcivilrightsmovement.com: "Utah Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes, who is fighting to retain his position in the November election, will likely appeal the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Reyes has also mounted an expensive full-frontal attempt to defend Utah's same-sex marriage ban."
New York magazine notes,
Antiquated anti-cohabitation laws are apparently still on the books in three states: Florida, Michigan, and Mississippi. And of course, plenty of non-Mormons cohabit with multiple partners as well. They just call it polyamory.