Utah struggles to defend monogamous, man-woman marriage

Carolyn Moynihan
3 September 2014
Reproduced with Permission

The Mormon stronghold of Utah is trying to defend its laws on marriage on two fronts, same-sex marriage and polygamy, but courts are not on the state's side. Last week federal judge Clark Waddoups finalised an order striking down part of Utah's law against bigamy in a drawn out lawsuit by Kody Brown and his four "sister wives" against the state.

The Browns are part of a sect with Mormon roots who feature in the television show "Sister Wives". It was after this show first went to air four years ago that the state began its investigation of the polygamist family. They are framing the issue as one of religious freedom.

Utah's Attorney General Sean Reyes says he will appeal Waddoups' ruling, but the Browns' lawyer has asked him to reconsider, reports the Salt Lake Tribune :

"Attorney General Reyes takes an oath to protect the Constitution and that is exactly what this decision does," Turley said in an interview Wednesday. "For the state of Utah to appeal this case, it will have to go to [the appeals court in] Denver and argue against the freedom of religion."

Waddoups ruling has come in three parts:

The Tribune reports:

In court filings and oral arguments before Waddoups, attorneys for Utah have argued polygamy is inherently harmful to women and children and the state had an interest in deterring it.

This may be a difficult case to make, given testimonies from women like Brown's wives (and children?). The state is also up against decisions relating to same-sex relationships:

The Browns filed their lawsuit in July 2011, arguing Utah's law violated their right to privacy. The family's argument relied primarily on the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the Texas law banning sodomy, which was celebrated by gay rights advocates.

Reyes' office is already appealing a marriage ruling that came days after the bigamy ruling. That second ruling struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

Arguably, there's never been a better time in the US to make a bid for the right to polygamy.