In response to a lawsuit filed by Kody Brown from the reality television show, Sister Wives, a bill expanding Utah’s bigamy law just passed the state senate before the midnight deadline on Thursday. The bill has changed the definition and wording of what makes someone a bigamist in the state. The law would now consider a person is guilty of bigamy if, “… he or she lives with a purported spouse while legally married to someone else.”
The current law says bigamy occurs when a married man weds someone “spiritually” or when he cohabitates with someone. The bill also adds penalties for cases that involve abuse, fraud, and human trafficking, according to CNN.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Mike Noel, a Republican, proposed changes to the anti-bigamy law once he reviewed Brown’s case. In February, Noel revealed to CNN affiliate KTSU, that his goal in rewording the law is to avoid any potential lawsuits.
In September of 2010, police started investigating the Brown family after Sister Wives aired. The family fled to Nevada to avoid being arrested for bigamy. Kody Brown and his four wives sued Utah in 2011, citing its law as unconstitutional. The Brown’s asserted that they should not be prohibited from living together with their 18 children.
In 2013, the polygamists won in U.S. District Court, but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2016, according to CNN.
The bill, which is called, HB99, also states that in cases where domestic or sexual abuse occurs, the crime will become a second-degree felony, instead of third-degree. The bill does exempt those who decide to exit bigamous relationships because they are a minor or of fear for their safety.
— Robyn Brown (@LuvgvsUwngs) December 29, 2014
Meri Brown, who was once legally married to Kody, but is now one of Brown’s “spiritual” wives, told the newspaper that polygamists who currently live in Utah might go further underground.
“My concern is all this is going to do is drive the good polygamous people who don’t have those abuses more into hiding, and it’s going to make the people who do have those abuses just be able to do them even more.”
In 1896, in order for Utah to become a state, it was forced to abandon legal polygamy. From the years 2001-2010, only 10 people have been charged with violating the law, according to the Daily Mail.
— Us Weekly (@usweekly) February 11, 2017
In February, the Brown family marched to the Utah State Capitol to protest House Bill 99. Kody Brown told Fox 13 that consenting adults should be left alone.
“There’s thousands of polygamists, husbands, and wives, consenting adults in this state, who they’re ignoring their need to be free as consenting adults… Once again, prosecute the real crime. Prosecute abuse, prosecute fraud, prosecute all these things that are there.”
The Dargers, a polygamist family who live in Utah, said on Facebook that the new bill targets plural families of the Mormon faith and is a ”huge step backward.”
“This clearly targets plural Mormon families. This clearly targets free speech. This clearly is a bill of religious discrimination.”
Senator Kevin Van Tassell implored fellow legislators to pass the bill to give police officers “the tools that we need on very severe cases,” as reported by CNN affiliate KSL. According to KTSU, the office of Utah’s attorney general has said it will prosecute polygamy cases only if they involve other crimes.
HB99 passed on Thursday by a bipartisan 15-14 vote. Kody asserted that the bill, in essence, classifies all polygamists as “second-class citizens.”
[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]