Federal Judge Rules Utah Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional

By:  Dave Bohon
Federal Judge Rules Utah Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Utah has struck down a key portion of that state's marriage law that makes polygamy illegal, raising concerns among pro-family leaders that the nation may be entering a new phase in an all-out attack on marriage.

On December 13 Judge Clark Waddoups of the U.S. District Court of Utah struck down a portion of the state law that prohibits polygamous cohabitation, ruling that it violated both the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by Kody Brown and his four “wives,” who are the the subjects of the reality show Sister Wives on the TLC network. Brown is only legally married to one of the women, but the religious sect the five belong to, called the Apostolic United Brethren, embraces polygamy and holds that Brown and the other three women are married in a “spiritual” union.

While all states ban bigamy (having multiple marriages at one time), Utah also prohibits polygamous cohabitation, a law Brown and wives contended violates their freedom of religion as well as their privacy rights. Waddoups' ruling concurred with that charge.

Baptist Press News noted that in his ruling Waddoups “took issue with a 1973 state law that says a 'person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.'”

In his decision Waddoups referred to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down laws prohibiting sodomy. “Consensual sexual privacy is the touchstone of the rational basis review analysis in this case, as in Lawrence,” Waddoups wrote. “The court believes that Plaintiffs are correct in their argument that, in prohibiting cohabitation under the statute, ‘it is … the state that has equated private sexual conduct with marriage.’”

ChristianNews.net noted that “because Brown does not claim to be married to all of the women — nor does the state ban cohabitation in other relationships — Waddoups threw out the cohabitation section of the statute, while upholding the prohibition on bigamy.”

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