‘Sister Wives’ polygamous family prevail in federal court; Utah cohabitation law ruled unconstitutional
Polygamy remains illegal in Utah. But it’s no longer illegal to cohabitate with multiple people you consider your spouses in a plural marriage there.
The ruling handed down Friday by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups effectively invalidated much of Utah’s anti-polygamy law in practice, the result of a case pressed by Kody Brown and his family, the people at the center of the “Sister Wives” reality television show.
Brown and his family star in the TLC channels’ reality show “Sister Wives,” which documents the life of their polygamist family. While the show started with the Browns living in Lehi, Utah, but Brown and his four wives fled Utah for Las Vegas in 2011, ahead of prosecutors looking to enforce Utah’s 150-year-old ban on polygamy. While all states have legal prohibitions on bigamy, Utah’s bigamy law is among the strictest — it bans people from even claiming to be married to more than one partner, and it bans “unrelated” polygamous families from living together.
Attorneys for the state of Utah had tried to get the case thrown out before a ruling could be made, but Waddoups noted the lack of substantive response to Brown’s arguments about the unconstitutionality of the Utah laws. Waddoups’ ruling calls the law prohibiting cohabitation with another person “as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and as without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Waddoups’ ruling touches on both the Orientalism influencing lawmakers in the nineteenth century and the strengthening of the provisions of the Bill of Rights in the intervening years. “With this interpretive framework in mind, it is perhaps a bitter irony of the history at issue here that it is possible to view the LDS Church as playing the role of both victim and violator in the saga of religious polygamy in Utah (and America).”
Meri Brown, one of the four wives of Kody Brown, said through Twitter that “I am overcome with emotion and gratitude. Friday 12-13-13 is a beautiful day. God is good!”