Utah Polygamy Law Axed After ‘Sister Wives’ Suit

Utah’s polygamy law gets partially axed following a ruling in a lawsuit brought by the stars of Sister Wives. The reality TV series features a polygamous family and their daily lives. The suit was filed by Kody Brown in 2011, arguing that the Utah law banning plural relationships is unconstitutional.

Brown stars on Sister Wives with his four wives and their 17 children. The series has run for four seasons on TLC. Although the family has since left for Nevada, Brown appears to be successfully making headway for polygamists in Utah.

US District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled last week that the Utah polygamy law including the phrase “or cohabitates with another person” is unconstitutional. This piece, Waddoups says, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect religious freedoms and guarantees due process. Living with another person does not qualify the pair or group as “married,” he wrote. Friday’s ruling draws from a Supreme Court case from 2003. Lawrence v Texas which ended on a ruling declared anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional.

Because of this, the final ruling cuts that phrase from the law. What does this mean for bigamy in Utah? Per the new ruling, pluralism is now only illegal if a person attempts to get multiple marriage licenses illegally. The catch is that Utah citizens are still barred from acquiring more than a single marriage license — in effect, leaving bigamy outlawed.

Socially conservative leaders have been quick to criticize the Utah polygamy ruling. Senator Rick Santorum (R-VA) had this to say on Twitter after the ruling:

Santorum refers to comments he made after the ruling in Lawrence v Texas a decade ago. At the time, the senator claimed that by providing legal protection for consensual same-sex intercourse, a door had been opened. Among the list of things he feared would follow? Legal protection of bigamy, alongside incest and adultery.

Various conservative and religious groups have spoken out against the ruling. The right-wing Family Research Council claims that “serious consequences” could come from undoing Utah’s polygamy law. A spokesperson from the Southern Baptist Convention worries that “when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing.”

Regardless of concerns over the ruling, the Utah polygamy law is still in place and continues to prohibit plural marriage.

[Image via TLC / Jana Cruder]