Federal judge strikes down part of Utah’s ban on polygamy

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge declared a portion of Utah’s polygamy ban unconstitutional late Wednesday, essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled the phrase in the law “‘or cohabits with another person’ is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives, who left Utah fearing prosecution. They sued the state, arguing that the ban violated their right to freely practice their religion.

The ruling follows a similar order in December of last year that the judge took back while he decided the issue of damages. In the order, Judge Waddoups did preserve the phrases “marry” and “purports to marry” to “save the statute from being invalidated in its entirety.”

The judge also awarded financial compensation to the Brown family.

Read the ruling here:

The Utah Attorney General’s Office told FOX 13 late Wednesday it was reviewing the ruling. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told FOX 13’s Ben Winslow in an interview last year that he intended to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a statement, Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley said he hoped Reyes would not appeal.

“After this decision, abuse of spouses and children will continue to be prosecuted regardless of whether they occur in monogamous or polygamous families. These protective services will only be strengthened now that many families can openly integrate into society and not fear prosecution merely because of their family structure,” he wrote.

“Utah is a state that was founded by citizens seeking those very rights against government abuse. Utah is better place because of the courageous decision of Judge Waddoups and the commitment of the Brown family in defense of our Constitution.”

Kody Brown and his wives issued a statement late Wednesday. It reads:

“The entire Brown family is gratified and thankful for this final ruling from Judge Waddoups. 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. We hope that Attorney General Reyes will see this as a victory of us all in defending the freedom of religion and other rights in our precious Constitution. We want to particularly thank our lead counsel Professor Jonathan Turley who represented us through the criminal investigation and then led the fight against this law to reach this historic decision. We also want to thank the team of lawyers and students from George Washington, including our local counsel Adam Alba. We are so honored and blessed to have been able to serve as the vehicle for this milestone ruling. Professor Turley has pledged to defend this decision on appeal and we are equally committed to fight to preserve this now final and complete victory.”

23 comments

  • BobN

    If you don’t actually MARRY someone legally, it’s not called “polygamy” no matter what anyone’s religion thinks it’s called. Stop the sloppy reporting.

  • Reality what a concept

    How does this strike down polygamy laws? All this says is you can live with as many “adults” as you want and call them your spouse. It does not mean I can run down to the courthouse with more than one person in tow and marry them.

  • Mike

    Mike Rogers
    People can comment on things they know nothing at all about. It goes to show the ignorance an stupidity of the people whom just make assumptions!!! Get it right and get over yourselves peeps!!! SMH

    • justinbryangalloway

      Don’t even try the “animals next” thing. An animal cannot consent or sign a name. Invalid argument.

  • Morey Soffo

    Remember: every time you marry a new wife, you get a new mother-in-law.
    Does this mean women can have more than one husband?

    • bobsf94117

      “Remember: every time you marry a new wife, you get a new mother-in-law.”

      Not necessarily. You could, for example, marry twins…

  • ringo

    When “woman” was a job description, a bigamy ban made perfect sense. Now, not so much. And this means that women in abusive plural relationships can seek government intervention instead of having to stay in hiding.
    Oh lord, the irony.

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  • John

    Personally I don’t believe that a person who is an adult should be told how to live their lives. If a woman falls in love and gets married and later falls in love with someone else and wants to marry them, they should be allowed to as long as it is above board and all parties involved are in agreement. Same if it is a man. Abuse on the other hand should always be dealt with, and should never enter into a LOVING relationship/ relationships for any reason.

  • fmcart

    The guy in Utah is like someone I know who has four junky cars that are constantly falling apart. I’d rather have one good one that’s dependable. Not to mention good looking.

  • justinbryangalloway

    Just like gay marriage there is no logical reason to deny consenting adults to engage in a plurl marriage contract.

    • KNalepa

      Difference between civil “contract” and marriage — which has de facto been accepted as more than a contract but a covenant between one man and one woman. Civil “marriage” as in civil union – OK. But to call it marriage seeks to re-define the term “marriage” and replace it with: civil, legal contract between whomever consents to live together.

  • jerry

    he is legally married to the first wife and just shacking up with the others. I don’t watch the show anymore I quit watching when someone ask him what he would do if one of his wife’s decide to take on another husband. his response was to get up and walkout of the interview. that tells me that he is a selfish self centered “PIG”. just wish he would just leave the Mormon religion out of it. they don’t do that anymore. what is doesn’t know or want to know is that in the Mormon religion only certain upper class people could practice polygamy not everyone could have more than 1 wife.

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