Utah federal judge strikes down key part of anti-polygamy law

December 14, 2013 0 Comments

Sister Wives Today Show
Sister Wives Today Show

Yes, this all was predicted long ago, and led to charges of fear mongering and false slippery slopes.

The legalization of polygamy followed logically from the legal arguments against one man-one woman, as was predicted not just by me, but also by Professor Martha Nussbaum, one of the leading legal advocates for gay marriage, “Polygamy would have to be permitted.”

And it’s coming true in a small step, as a federal court in Utah, while not holding that polygamists were entitled to state-sanctioned civil marriage, nonetheless struck portions of Utah’s anti-polygamy laws banning polygamous “cohabitation” and polygamous “purported” marriages. The full decision is embedded at the bottom of the post.

Via Salt Lake Tribune, Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional (h/t Hot Air):

A U.S. District Court judge has sided with the polgyamous Brown family, ruling that key parts of Utah’s polygamy laws are unconstitutional.

Judge Clark Waddoups’ 91-page ruling, issued Friday, sets a new legal precedent in Utah, effectively decriminalizing polygamy.

It is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by the family of Kody Brown, who became famous while starring in cable TV channel TLC’s reality series “Sister Wives.” The show entered a fourth season at the end of the summer.

Waddoups’ ruling attacks the parts of Utah’s law making cohabitation illegal. In the introduction, Waddoups says the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of both the First and 14th amendments.

Waddoups later writes that while there is no “fundamental right” to practice polygamy, the issue really comes down to “religious cohabitation.” In the 1800s — when the mainstream LDS Churh still practiced polygamy — “religious cohabitation” in Utah could have actually resulted in “multiple purportedly legal marriages.” Today, however, simply living together doesn’t amount to being “married,” Waddoups writes.

“The court finds the cohabitation prong of the Statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it,” Waddoups later writes.

In the ruling, the Court concluded as follows:

The court finds the cohabitation prong of the Statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it. As a result, and to save the Statute, the court adopts the interpretation of “marry” and “purports to marry,” and the resulting narrowing construction of the Statute, offered by the dissent in State of Utah v. Holm, 2006 UT 31, ¶¶ 131-53, 137 P.3d 726, 758-66, thus allowing the Statute to remain in force as prohibiting bigamy in the literal sense—the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage.

The Court (at page 74) relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas (outlawing an anti-Sodomy law):

Consensual sexual privacy is the touchstone of the rational basis review analysis in this case, as in Lawrence. The court believes that Plaintiffs are correct in their argument that, in prohibiting cohabitation under the Statute, “it is, of course, the state that has equated private sexual conduct with marriage.” (Pls.’ Opp. to Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. 25 [Dkt. No. 72].) That is, in the case of people who have not even claimed to be legally married—are not making any claim to legal recognition of their unions or the network of laws surrounding the institution of marriage—“[i]t is the state that is treating the relationship as a form of marriage and prosecuting on that basis.” (Id.) As such, this, in effect, criminalizes “the private consensual relations of adults.” (Id.)

It was the ruling in Lawrence which, in his dissent, caused Justice Scalia to predict that it was a precursor to gay marriage:

This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Justice O’Connor seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is a legitimate state interest. Ante, at 7. But “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples. Texas’s interest in §21.06 could be recast in similarly euphemistic terms: “preserving the traditional sexual mores of our society.” In the jurisprudence Justice O’Connor has seemingly created, judges can validate laws by characterizing them as “preserving the traditions of society” (good); or invalidate them by characterizing them as “expressing moral disapproval” (bad).

This is a significant development, since religious polygamous families do not necessarily seek civil marriage, but to live together in polygamous family relationships.

It’s not polygamous marriage yet, but a foot has been placed on the slippery slope.

Utah Sister Wives Polygamy Law Ruling.pdf

   





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