News and Analysis

Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 1:22 p.m.

Law professor’s challenge to Utah bigamy law moves forward

This post is written by Hatchet staff writer Matt Kwiecinski.

A GW Law School professor received approval from a U.S. District Court judge Feb. 3 to go forward with a case in Utah challenging the constitutionality of the state’s bigamy law.

Jonathan Turley

Jonathan Turley, an expert in special interest law who is the lead attorney in the case, filed the federal lawsuit last July on behalf of the stars of the reality TV show “Sister Wives,” which follows polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups sided with the Browns in the 21-page memorandum order. He said although the openly polygamous family has never faced prosecution, the Browns still have standing to continue with the lawsuit because Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman told reporters that the family should be prosecuted for violating the law.

“The entirety of actions by the Utah County prosecutors tend to show either an ill-conceived public-relations campaign to showboat their own authority and/or harass the Browns and the polygamist community at large, or to assure the public that they intended to carry out their public obligations and prosecute violations of the law,” Waddoups wrote.

Although Brown is legally married to only one wife, he cohabits three others, claiming they are his “spiritual wives.” The state’s bigamy law prohibits a married person to cohabit with another person.

Utah officials began looking into investigating the family when “Sister Wives” began airing on TLC in 2010.

  • Intrigued

    It is interesting to note that while people are screaming about the government infringing on the religious rights of Catholics for requiring non-religious health plans to cover contraception, arguing that the government has no right to interfere in a religious beliefs, the same people will condemn off-shoots of the Mormon Church for practicing polygamy as a religious belief. Is there not a parallel? If we can ban religious practices (going back to the Reynolds v. U.S. case in the 1880s), why can we not also mandate certain insurance practices. particularly for those who are not members of the impacted religion? There is enormous inconsistency, and it is based on society’s preferences, not on the basis of freedom of religion.

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