Kody Brown, 44, and his four wives (Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, known collectively as the “sister wives“) can now have a legal union in their home state of Utah.
District Court Judge Clarke Waddoups passed the following judgement:
“It is hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that Utah Code Ann. 76-7-101 (2013) is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase “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; to preserve the integrity of the Statute, as enacted by the Utah State Legislature, the Court hereby severs the phrase ‘or cohabits with another person’ from Utah Code 76-7-101(1).”
So what, exactly, does that mean?
Legally, Kody Brown is only married to Meri, his first wife. The other three sister wives he married only in a spiritual union, rather than a legal one. But the fear for the Browns was that, because the Browns openly cohabited with one another and had seventeen children between them, the State of Utah could easily consider the other three “spiritual” unions between Kody and his sister wives to be legal common-law marriages, which would put all five of the adult Browns in danger of being charged with polygamy. So although the Browns, and other polygamous families like them in Utah, no longer need to fear persecution (or prosecution) from their numerous “spiritual unions,” there will still only be one “legal” marriage within a family. Basically, a man can have as many sister wives as he likes, but there will only be one marriage certificate.
Some believe that this ruling is inching Utah ever closer to truly legalizing polygamy – that as long as other laws are followed, such as no underage marriage, rape, or domestic violence – polygamy may become legalized rather than just tolerated and not prosecuted.
The Utah Attorney General’s office has previously stated that they would appeal this law, but for now, the Browns are celebrating. Kody Brown released this statement on behalf of himself, his sister wives, and their children:
“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.”
It does seem a solid victory for Kody Brown and his sister wives. What do you think? Should people be allowed to cohabit freely, without fear of being prosecuted, or is this ruling truly paving the way towards legal polygamy?
[Image via New York Daily News]