A landmark Utah case that would make a polygamy lifestyle legal is now free to move forward — unless state officials decide to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups this week reaffirmed his December ruling that threw out part of a state anti-bigamy law.
Although Judge Waddoups upheld the part of the law that said married people cannot legally marry, or purport to marry, a second spouse, he struck down the part of the law that said married people cannot cohabit with other people.
Since polygamous men typically live with — but do not legally marry — their “sister wives,” the no-cohabitation provision had been used to prosecute such families. The tradition of polygamy has long been a politically delicate on in a state founded by Mormon pioneers.
The ruling is a victory for reality-TV star Kody Brown, who lives with wife Meri Brown, three “sister wives” and their 17 children.
It also opens the door for other families like the Browns to now “be both plural and legal in the state of Utah,” Jonathan Turley, attorney for the Browns, said this week.
An estimated 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons practice or support polygamy in the United States, primarily in Utah and other western states.
The final ruling was needed to resolve issues relating to payment of damages. Judge Waddoups ruled that the state should cover the Browns’ legal expenses.
On Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said state laws should be defended until all appeals are exhausted, while acknowledging that the failure to strictly enforce the law probably influenced the court’s decision.
“I think it’s probably not good policy and good practice for families to have that kind of a situation, so that’s my own provincial view of traditional marriage,” Mr. Herbert told reporters in Salt Lake City Thursday.
Utah Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office issued a statement saying the ruling is under review regarding an appeal.
The Browns sued to overturn Utah’s bigamy law after their family appeared in the TLC show, “Sister Wives,” and Utah authorities began to investigate them. The Browns, who are members of the Apostolic United Brethren church, left Utah and now live near Las Vegas.
“While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our religious beliefs,” they said.
Mr. Turley, who has said he would defend the Browns if the case is appealed, also thanked the judge for being “the first court to strike down the criminalization of polygamy.”