Monday, January 23, 2017

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Utah's Polygamy Ban

Remember last June when Pat Robertson fretted that it was just a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court stuck down our country's laws against polygamy? Maybe not...

We learned today that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from the plural family featured on TLC's reality show "Sister Wives" (Kidy, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown). The end result? Polygamy is still illegal in Utah:
After the Supreme Court's 2015 rulings that legalized gay marriage, some polygamists and libertarians believed polygamy was the next step in marriage rights. Some lawyers also thought the Browns represented the best chance in decades for polygamy to win in the courts because all five spouses were consenting adults with no taint of crimes such as sexual abuse or fraud. 

But the Brown's case was hampered by one problem — the Browns have never been prosecuted for bigamy. 

They contended the law on the books and a 2010 investigation by Lehi police was enough to constitute discrimination. The bigamy statute, when read broadly, could be used to prosecute unmarried couples who live together. Yet the statute, which makes polygamy a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, has only ever been used to prosecute polygamists. 

The Utah Attorney General's Office argued polygamy is inherently harmful to women and children and that the state has an interest in keeping it a crime if only as a way to help it prosecute more serious crimes within polygamous communities. 

In December 2013, federal Judge Clark Waddoups sided with the Browns and struck down the portion of Utah's bigamy statute focused on polygamy. (A portion dealing with having active, multiple marriage licenses remained.) 

In April of last year, the appeals court in Denver overturned that ruling. In finding the Browns lacked standing to file a legal challenge a three-judge panel considered a policy by the Utah County Attorney's Office limiting polygamy prosecutions to cases which also include offenses like sexual abuse, fraud or underage marriage. Other county prosecutors and the Utah Attorney General's Office have similar policies. 
In other words, polygamy is still illegal in Utah and illegal elsewhere in the country.

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