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Utah Judge Strikes Down Polygamy Law

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Posted on Dec 14, 2013
ErgSap (CC BY 2.0)

A U.S. District Court judge ruled key parts of Utah’s polygamy law unconstitutional, a decision that effectively decriminalizes polygamy.

The ruling is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by the family of Kody Brown, a star of cable TV channel TLC’s reality show “Sister Wives.”

The Salt Lake Tribune explains:

[Judge Clark] Waddoups’ ruling attacks the parts of Utah’s law making cohabitation illegal. In the introduction, Waddoups says the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of both the First and 14th amendments. Waddoups later writes that while there is no “fundamental right” to practice polygamy, the issue really comes down to “religious cohabitation.” In the 1800s—when the mainstream LDS Churh still practiced polygamy—“religious cohabitation” in Utah could have actually resulted in “multiple purportedly legal marriages.” Today, however, simply living together doesn’t amount to being “married,” Waddoups writes.

“The court finds the cohabitation prong of the Statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it,” Waddoups later writes.

The ruling makes bigamy, the act of marrying a person while already being married to another, illegal only in the literal sense, as when someone fraudulently acquires multiple marriage licenses.

The Browns filed their lawsuit in July 2011, arguing that Utah’s law violated their right to privacy. That argument relied upon the 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas law banning sodomy. The Brown family also faced possible prosecution from Utah County. Nearly a year after they filed their suit, however, Utah County District Attorney Jeff Buhman announced his office wouldn’t file bigamy charges against consenting adult polygamists unless violence, fraud or abuse was involved.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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