Members of a polygamous marriage in Utah say they are no longer fearful of arrest now that a judge has struck down a major portion of the state’s anti-polygamy law, declaring it unconstitutional.
As AFP reports, Joe Darger and his three wives are members of a polygamous marriage which, they say, is endorsed by their fundamentalist Mormon faith.
Joe married his cousins Alina and Vicki in 1990, and in 2000 Vicki’s twin, Valerie, joined the marriage, following the breakdown of her first polygamous marriage, bringing with her five children from that relationship.
The Dargers have 25 children altogether, 17 of them still living at home.
Though the family has lived openly for several years now, even publishing a book entitled Love Times Three in 2011, Joe states he feared arrest under the state’s anti-polygamy laws until last December when Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that laws banning “unlawful cohabitation” was at odds with the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
One of Joe’s wives, Alina, an attorney who works on cases involving polygamy, states the ruling was a relief.
“That’s been one of the great things about the ruling–the decriminalization, and the judge saying basically that the state needs to stay out of people’s bedrooms,” she said. “As long as it’s adults freely choosing what they want, then I don’t feel it would be my place to tell somebody else you can’t choose to love who you love.”
As the Associated Press reported at the time of the ruling in December, Waddoups’ decision was a victory for Kody Brown and his four wives who star in the TLC reality show Sister Wives and for other fundamentalist Mormons who believe polygamy garners exaltation in heaven.
Approximately 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons who either practice or believe in polygamy are living in Utah and other western states. The mainstream Mormon church abandoned polygamy in 1890 as Utah moved toward statehood, and today the practice is strictly prohibited.
The Browns filed a lawsuit in July of 2011 and left Utah for Las Vegas in 2012 under threat of prosecution.
Anne Wilde of Salt Lake City, co-founder of Principle Voices, a polygamy advocacy group, said polygamous families have lived under fear of arrest for decades, a threat that is no longer a worry after Waddoups’ ruling.
Wilde herself was a “plural wife” for 33 years until her husband died.
“Now that we’re no longer felons, that’s a huge relief,” she told the AP. “They no longer have to be afraid that someone will knock at their door and take away their kids. This decision will hopefully take away the stigma of living a principle that’s a strongly held religious belief.”
According to the AP, the two largest organized polygamist churches are Warren Jeff’s Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the Utah-Arizona border and the Apostolic United Brethren in northern Utah. Approximately 15,000 fundamentalists are not members of any church.
Some fundamentalist Mormons, however, view anti-polygamy laws as essential for the protection of women and children.
As AFP reports, Marion Munn, a fundamentalist Mormon, was part of a polygamous relationship for 18 years.
“The only way that I can explain it is like living with adultery on a daily basis, and having the woman come home,” Munn said. “On top of that you have to smile and pretend that everything’s okay because that’s part of the culture too.”
Munn now asserts that polygamous marriages are intrinsically unequal, often entered into under pressure.
“Certainly within Mormon-based polygamy, it’s not really much of a choice, because Mormon scriptures teach a woman that if she doesn’t consent to living in polygamy, God’s going to destroy her,” Munn explained. “So for me going into it, I didn’t personally want to live it, but I felt compelled to as a matter of faith.”
As AFP reports, a 2011 University of British Columbia study found that polygamy leads to higher levels of crime, violence, poverty, and gender inequality in communities where it is practiced.
Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes has not yet announced whether he will challenge Waddoups’ ruling on polygamy.
In December, Breitbart News’ senior legal analyst Ken Klukowski debated George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley on NPR’s On Point regarding his court battle to legalize polygamy. The debate can be heard here.
As Klukowski argued, Turley’s claim that polygamy should be a state-by-state issue contradicts his core argument that this is a right in the U.S. Constitution.
“Since the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, if something is a fundamental right in the Constitution, then no lawmakers–state or federal–can deny people that right,” Klukowski wrote at Breitbart News.
In addition, Klukowski challenged the NPR reporter’s claim that “nothing has changed” as a result of the ruling except that polygamists will no longer be incarcerated in Utah.
The case “is designed to normalize polygamy,” Klukowski wrote:
When the Supreme Court declared a right to homosexual sodomy in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, legal commentators and courts started citing this new right as the basis for additional rights. Many locales started teaching homosexuality in schools, and government nondiscrimination policies added sexual lifestyles and behaviors as protected classes alongside race and nationality.
Klukowski added that Turley promoted his case as the latest one involving the right to privacy.
“The problem is that there is no right to privacy in the Constitution. The Supreme Court invented one out of thin air in its 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut, a case involving contraception,” he wrote. “Griswold was the precedent the Court then cited when it declared a constitutional right to abortion in 1973 in Roe v. Wade.”