A polygamy ban has been overturned by a Utah judge, who effectively decriminalized polygamy in a ruling this week in favor of a husband and his four wives. The group at the center of the case – headed by hubby Kody Brown and his four wives – all appear on TLC’s reality show Sister Wives.
The Browns, who fled Utah after allegations of persecution, are considering moving back home after U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups declared that banning plural wives and cohabitation was an unconstitutional violation of the Brown’s rights.
The series – Emmy nominated and starring patriarch Kody with wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, along with 17 children between them – started in 2010. The family sued the state of Utah back in 2011, with Brown stating his polygamist arrangement is legal because Brown is only married on paper to his first wife, Meri. The other three unions are “spiritual” ones.
Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley called it a “historic ruling that I believe will stand the test of time,” adding that the “important thing is that they now can move back to Utah. They now have the choice.”
In his 91-page judgment, Waddoups' ruling, while not legalizing polygamy, said the state’s phraseology of “cohabits with another person,” was a “violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously-motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage. -- U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups
The Browns released a statement through their attorney, stating:
"The decision brings closure for our family and further reaffirms the right of all families to be free from government abuse. While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our religious beliefs. Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs."
According to The Associated Press, via ABC News, Utah's governor, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, is not happy with the ruling, and “says the state should appeal a court ruling that favors the family,” and that “state laws should be defended in court until all appeals are exhausted,” writes the AP.
“I think it's probably not good policy and good practice for families to have that kind of a situation, so that's my own provincial view of traditional marriage,” Herbert said.
Writes the AP:
There are an estimated 38,000 people who call themselves fundamentalist Mormons and practice or believe in polygamy… Most of them live in Utah and other Western states. Utah's bigamy law was stricter than the laws in 49 other states, making it illegal to even purport to be married to multiple partners or live together. Most bigamy laws prohibit people from having multiple legal marriage licenses. The judge left in place that portion of Utah's bigamy law.
The practice of polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890 as Utah moved toward statehood. Today, it strictly prohibits the practice.
What are your thoughts? Has the judge competently ruled against government interference in the private exercise of one's religious ideals? Sound off below.