Cato Institute claims polygamy is free speech

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Polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives (left to right) Robyn, Janelle, Christine and Meri. The family stars in the reality TV show "Sister Wives." (Photo provided by TLC)

SALT LAKE CITY — Is saying “I do, I do, I do, I do” constitutionally protected free speech?

In a filing with a federal appeals court, the libertarian think tank Cato Institute is asking for the state’s polygamy ban to be struck down, arguing Utah is criminalizing freedom of speech.

In a “friend of the court” brief before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the Cato Institute accuses the state of criminally punishing speech.

“In Utah, one can promise love to someone in addition to one’s spouse. One can share one’s home and create a family with someone in addition to one’s spouse. But one cannot, under penalty of criminal law, call this other person one’s wife or husband, or otherwise express that one is religiously or spiritually married to more than one person,” the group wrote in the amicus filing.

“This happens because Utah defines criminal bigamy, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101… to include saying ‘I do’ in a wedding ceremony, or saying ‘that’s my wife’ about someone one lives with, even when everyone knows that the marriage is not legally recognized.”

The amicus brief is one of several weighing in on the lawsuit brought by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives. The family sued the state of Utah over its ban on polygamy, arguing it violates their right to freedom of religion. In 2013, a week before a federal judge overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, another judge struck down a portion of Utah’s polygamy ban that prohibited cohabitation.

The state is appealing the judge’s ruling.

“Utah may decline to legally recognize certain relationships as marriages, but it may not criminalize wedding vows—or speech labeling a polygamous relationship as a marriage— simply because it finds such relationships distasteful,” the Cato Institute wrote.

 

Read the filing here: