Judge hears ‘Sister Wives’ challenge of Utah law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Attorneys for a polygamous family made famous on a reality television show on Friday asked a Utah federal judge not to block their challenge of the state’s bigamy law.

Kody Brown and wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn filed a lawsuit in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court in July.

The stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives” contend the law is unconstitutional because it violates their right to privacy _ prohibiting them from living together and criminalizing their private sexual relationships.

Under Utah law, people are guilty of bigamy if they have multiple marriage licenses, or if they cohabitate with another consenting adult in a marriage-like relationship. Any couple of any sex living together in an intimate relationship is considered marriage-like under the law, and such a living arrangement would be considered a felony. Any couple of any sex living together in an intimate relationship could be considered guilty of a felony under the law.

Formerly of Lehi, the Browns and their 17 children moved to Nevada in January after police launched a bigamy investigation. The Browns practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups heard oral arguments in the case on Friday in Salt Lake City and took the matter under advisement. It’s not clear when he will rule.

For the case to go forward, the judge must decide the Browns have been harmed by the bigamy law.

In court, the Browns’ Washington-based attorney, Jonathan Turley, said the family has suffered losses of income and been forced to move out of state because they were under investigation for bigamy.

They’ve also suffered “reputational harm” because the law labels the Browns’ family a “criminal association,” and because some Utah County prosecutors have said publicly that it would be easy for authorities bring charges because the Browns have already acknowledged felonies on national TV.

“This family was fearful of arrest … they still are,” Turley said. “It’s why they are not here (in court) today.”

Assistant Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen called the Browns’ lawsuit “great TV drama” but said there’s no real threat to the family, which has neither been arrested or charged with any crime.

Jensen said it’s more likely the Browns were harmed by publicizing their lifestyle on television, not by actions taken by the state.

“The Browns have perceived that they will be prosecuted,” Jensen said. “That is a misperception, at least at this point.”

Jenson also said the Browns assume that an ongoing investigation by Utah County authorities is related to allegations of bigamy.

“It’s over something else,” Jensen said.

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