Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Since When Did Bigamy Involve Cohabitation And Not Legal Marriage Contracts?

Did you hear about the polygamous family that went on a reality TV show called "Sister Wives" and ended up finding themselves charged with bigamy?  I always thought bigamy involved the act of filing multiple marriage licenses at once.  Apparently in Utah, you don't have to attempt to marry multiple partners to be charged with bigamy.  You just have to cohabit.  Now the Sister Wives family has a new story arc for their TV show.  They're taking the state of Utah to court and challenging its anti-polygamy law:
In an email to The Associated Press, attorney Jonathan Turley said he will file the lawsuit challenging Utah's bigamy law in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court on Wednesday. Turley represents Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn. Brown is only legally married to Meri Brown.

Originally from Lehi, the Browns, who have 16 children, has been featured on the TLC reality show since last fall. They moved out of Utah to Nevada in January after police and Utah County prosecutors launched a bigamy investigation. No charges were ever filed.

The Browns practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.

Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah. A person can be found guilty of bigamy through cohabitation, not just legal marriage contracts.

In a statement posted on his blog, Turley said the lawsuit will challenge Utah's right to prosecute people for their private relationships. "We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs," the statement reads.

According to the statement, the lawsuit seeks to protect a person's right to be left alone. "In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values - even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state," Turley wrote.
Personally, I'm kind of hoping that they win their case!  What business is it to the people of Utah if this man has four wives, especially if they're not even attempting to mess with the state's marriage law or file plural marriage licenses? 

How is it a third degree felony for this man to live in the same house with the four mothers of his children?  Apparently, it's not bigamy for him to have his wife and kids in one house and his mistress and other kids in the next house.  What difference does one yard make?  What if they each lived on either end of a duplex?

Even more scary, gay and lesbian families live in many more states that don't recognize our families compared to those that do.  If the state of Utah can arrest a man for bigamy who committed the crime of living in the same home with women of his children whom is considers his wives (legal or not), what's to stop the state from arresting a lesbian for violating the state's DOMA and constitutional definition of marriage for living with the woman she considers her wife (legal or not)?  Turley is right to assert that Utah's bigamy law threatens anyone who has values different than the majority.

I know that we are going to hear about others' fears of slippery slopes.  But I really don't care.  I hope that Brown wins this case.  This bigamy law would not be challenged if the state hadn't expanded it to include something that it shouldn't include (i.e., simple cohabitation) and if it hadn't been used to attack a plural family who had the nerve to reveal their lives on television.  I think the state of Utah owes it to the Brown family and the rest of Utah to explain why its in the public interest to threaten this man with a third degree felony.

No comments: