- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - In the wake of a court decision that de-criminalized polygamy in Utah, a state lawmaker unveiled a proposal Wednesday to revive the ban on living with multiple so-called spiritual wives.

The plan from Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab would make it a felony to live with more than one purported spouse. That would restore, with revisions, a key portion of the law struck down by a judge in 2013 after a polygamous family from the TV show “Sister Wives” sued.

The change is aimed at ending their lawsuit, which is now before a federal appeals court, Noel said. The revisions narrow the definition of the crime, which state attorneys say could make the case moot.

“It stops that case going forward,” Noel said.

But the lawyer for the “Sister Wives” family questioned that statement. Attorney Jonathan Turley said any law that bans consenting adults from living with multiple wives would likely violate his clients’ freedom of religion and speech.

The previous Utah law made it a crime to claim multiple spiritual spouses even if they didn’t all live under one roof. It also criminalized living with a second partner even if no one called the arrangement a marriage.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found those parts of Utah’s law violated the constitutional rights of Kody Brown and his four wives. He left in place the part of the law forbidding multiple legal marriage licenses, making Utah’s bigamy law similar to other states.

The Utah Attorney General has appealed that decision, and the 10th Circuit Court in Denver is weighing the case after hearing arguments in January.

Noel’s proposal would only target people who both say they are married to multiple people and live with those people. If it passes, the state could try to drop the appeal, but the Browns could contest that if the changes don’t fix their problems.

Utah has a longstanding policy against prosecuting consenting adult polygamists, and Noel said that his bill wouldn’t change that policy. But Attorney General Sean Reyes argued that the law should stay on the books because it helps prosecute crimes that can be associated with polygamy, like underage marriage and exploitation of government benefits.

But polygamy advocates say there are plenty of laws already on the book against those crimes, and the reality show “Sister Wives” is evidence that plural unions can be as healthy as monogamous marriages.

Another polygamous family is also pushing back against the stricter version of the bigamy law. Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, a Republican from Draper, met with the Dargers, a polygamous family who wrote a memoir, last week.

He said considering the law while the court case is ongoing could produce a thorough discussion of the issue.


Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price and Hallie Golden contributed to this report.

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