U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear ‘Sister Wives’ polygamy case

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The nation's top court has refused to hear a challenge to Utah's ban on polygamy.

In an order issued Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives. They had filed a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on plural marriage.

The order means the U.S. Supreme Court won't consider the case, and a lower court ruling stands. Brown and his wives, Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn, sued the state arguing that its historic ban on polygamy violated their religious freedom rights and their right to privacy. The family came under investigation shortly after their cable TV show "Sister Wives" began airing.

Reality TV polygamists (left to right) Meri, Janelle, Robyn, Kody and Christine Brown.

Reality TV polygamists (left to right) Meri, Janelle, Robyn, Kody and Christine Brown.

In 2013 -- about a week before another federal judge in Utah struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban -- U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups struck down a portion of the ban making it no longer a crime to live with multiple people and "purport" to be married. The Utah Attorney General's Office appealed and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver sided with them, ruling that the Browns did not really face a threat of criminal prosecution.

The Browns appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the 10th Circuit made an error in rejecting the case. The attorney general's office urged the court to reject the petition arguing, among other things, that Utah was forced to abandon the practice of polygamy as a condition of statehood.

The U.S. Supreme Court order denying a petition for certiorari in the "Sister Wives" polygamy case.

The U.S. Supreme Court order denying a petition for certiorari in the "Sister Wives" polygamy case.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office had no comment Monday. Polygamists that FOX 13 spoke with were disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision, but vowed to push the Utah State Legislature for decriminalization.

"We will not be denied," polygamist Joe Darger said.

He later tweeted:

A bill has already been introduced in the legislature that effectively "re-criminalizes" polygamy. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told FOX 13 on Monday he would not withdraw it even after the court's decision. He insisted the bill was necessary to help prosecutors go after polygamists who do "bad things."

"The people we're going to prosecute are people that are the bad actors, that are out doing things that are hurting children, hurting women, and basically hurting our society. We need the bill," Rep. Noel said.

In a statement, Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley was disappointed in the decision but said it is "not the end of the road."

"Plural and unconventional families will continue to strive for equal status and treatment under the law.  They will continue to seek the promise that led to the formation of this Republic: the right of every family to live according to their own faith and values," he wrote. "The refusal of the Supreme Court to hear their case will not make tens of thousands of families disappear or resolve the underlying claims of discrimination and harassment.  These families will remain (as will their demand for freedom of religion and equal protection)."


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