A federal judge struck down a small portion of Utah’s anti-bigamy law in a suit brought by members of the TV reality show, Sister Wives.
On December 13, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that a portion of the law was a violation of the First Amendment.
The new decision did not make bigamy legal in Utah. It struck down only the portion of the law that prohibits cohabitation, not the portion that maintains that one person cannot marry more than one other person.
The case originated from scrutiny that the state of Utah heaped onto the Brown family, the stars of the TV reality show about a polygamous family. The Browns fled Utah and moved to Nevada to escape prosecution.
Jonathan Turley, the lawyer for the Browns, celebrated the ruling, saying, “The decision affects a far greater range of such relationships than the form of polygamy practiced by the Browns. It is a victory not for polygamy but privacy in America.”
While the ruling is a small win for Utah polygamists, it does not change their status. Bigamy remains illegal in Utah.
As David Kopel explains, “It is important to remember Brown v. Burnham in no way establishes a constitutional right to plural marriage. Nor does the Brown decision challenge ordinary state laws against adultery. Rather, the decision simply strikes down an [sic] unique state law which defined cohabitation as ‘bigamy.'”