Utah polygamy ban restored in loss for ‘Sister Wives’ family

Stock image | St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court restored Utah’s ban on polygamy Monday, handing a defeat to the family from TV’s “Sister Wives” and other polygamists who say the ruling could send plural families back into hiding out of fear of prosecution.

Others cheered the decision that they say will help authorities prosecute people for crimes tied to the practice, such as underage marriage and sexual assault.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a 2013 ruling that struck down key parts of Utah’s law against bigamy, or holding multiple marriage licenses. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups had found the state violated polygamists’ right to privacy and religious freedom.

The appeals court ruled that Waddoups should not have considered a lawsuit from Kody Brown and his four wives because they were never charged with a crime and there was little chance they would be.

The decision brings back a rule forbidding married people from living with a second purported “spouse,” making Utah’s law stricter than those in every other state and creating a threat of arrest for plural families. Like most polygamous families in Utah, Brown is legally married to one wife and “spiritually married” to the others.

State authorities have long said they don’t go after polygamists who otherwise follow the law, and they reiterated that stance after the ruling. Officials wanted the clause kept on the books to help in criminal cases related to polygamy.

“We want them to come out of any shadows to report crimes,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said.

Prosecutors pointed to Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned polygamous sect leader convicted of assaulting girls he considered wives. Authorities have recently cracked down on his sect on the Utah-Arizona border, charging leaders in a multimillion-dollar food stamp fraud scheme. A jury in Phoenix also found the towns denied nonbelievers basic services such as police protection.

The Browns have never belonged to Jeffs’ group, and lumping in good, honest polygamist families with him isn’t fair, said Brady Williams, who has five wives.

We’re only guilty of trying to love a different way than the norm,” he said. “They are marginalizing a minority class in the United States. That’s unconstitutional.”

The Browns will appeal the ruling, either asking the 10th Circuit to reconsider or taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, said their lawyer, Jonathan Turley.

“The underlying rights of religious freedom and free speech are certainly too great to abandon,” Turley said in a statement.

The family has said other laws exist to target crimes linked to plural marriages and that banning the practice can sow distrust of authority. They argue their show is evidence that polygamous marriages can be just as healthy as monogamous ones.

Kristyn Decker, a former polygamous wife, disagrees. She says that people don’t report problems amid pressure to avoid casting the practice in a bad light.

“We have all been told over and over again, ‘We need to protect the principle of plural marriage at any cost,'” said Decker, who argued that the ban lets authorities get a foot in the door.

The state said the appeals court made the right call.

“I don’t think the Browns had a legitimate fear of prosecution,” said Parker Douglas, who argued the state’s case.

There are about 30,000 polygamists in Utah, according to court documents. They believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven — a legacy of the early Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.

Written by: LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press

Associated Press writers Hallie Golden and Brady McCombs contributed to this story.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • RealMcCoy April 12, 2016 at 9:44 am

    While I don’t necessarily agree with polygamy, I do not believe it is something the government should be interfering with. We let all kinds of other crazy religions do their thing- leave polygamy alone as well.
    They went so far as to pass a law allowing/protecting gay marriage, and one of the main premises for that was ‘consenting adults should be allowed to do what they like’. Two men can marry; two women can marry; two whatever-they-are can marry.
    Okay, fine. Polygamy is two consenting adults that obviously know their situation, and the other partners involved. Give them the same rights that the GLT crowd demanded.

    Under the guise of “helping authorities prosecute people for crimes tied to the practice, such as underage marriage and sexual assault”, the government wants to criminalize people that believe differently about marriage.
    There are already laws against underage marriage.
    There are already laws against sexual assault.
    There is no need or reason to criminalize polygamy.

    Consider the differences between a man with four wives, and a man with a wife and three girlfriends.
    The man with four wives works hard to love and care for them and all his children, yet society looks down on them, and law law sees a crime has been committed.
    The man with a wife and three girlfriends most likely works hard to keep them all a secret from each other, and most likely does not provide for his girlfriends and illegitimate children. Society may or may not care what this man does, and the law sees no crime committed.

    Legalize polygamy, and the ‘spirit wives’ can no longer be seen in the eyes of the state as ‘single mothers’ eligible for food stamps and all the other goodies.
    Just give the polygamists the same rights the GLT crowd gets now, and focus on more important issues.
    It really isn’t that difficult to figure out.

    • .... April 13, 2016 at 12:00 am

      LOL ! you are OUT there. waaaaaaaaaay OUT there

  • Rainbow Dash April 12, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Marriage in the United States has been a legal institution between 2 consenting adults, not one man and 30 women or 1 woman and 30 men. On the other hand If Kody Brown and his bunch want to live together and be “spiritually” married, I have no problem with that.

    Some of you are probably thinking that I’m a hypocrite because I support gay marriage but not polygamy so let me clear it up for you. Marriage in the United States has always been between two people. I support marriage between two, I repeat, TWO consenting adults no matter their gender. That’s equal. Kody Brown demanding to marry his however many “sister wives” is not equal and he is not entitled to more then anyone else.

    • Ladyk April 13, 2016 at 1:38 am

      Sorry Dash but that is being hypocritical. If 2 guys/2 women/ or what once was a man but now claimes.to be a woman and a woman who now claims to be a man can marry then who are we to say that polygamy is whong. After all plural marriage is all over in the bible but it says that gay marriage is a sin. It doesn’t say that about plural marriage. So to me, while I do not wish to ever participate in it, i believe that for all the LGBT to pick who they want then I don’t believe the government has any right to stand in the way of polygamy. Plus it stops the walfare/foodstamp fraud

      As far as the crimes that happen with- in certain sects, I think you can change certain laws and make it better. So say the 2nd wife has to be over the age of 18. I think it should be that way anyway. Having a state law that allows young girls to get married at 14 is just insane. Many states are this way and it just invites abuse. There is no reason at this time in America that a young teenager should be getting married. So raise the age limit and the problem is solved. Get the government out of our lives, they shouldn’t be making decisions for us.

      • Rainbow Dash April 13, 2016 at 9:41 am

        America is not, never has been and wa not intended to be a “Christian” nation. Want proof? Take a gander at the Constitution, you won’t find any mention of religion. The founders even went as far as to state the following in the first amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,…” That’s in the first part of the first sentence in the first amendment of the United States Constitution if you need to know where to look.

        As it stands, there is not one single legally mandated religious benefit to legal marriage in the United States. On the other hand there are over 1000 legal (not religious) benefits to marriage.

        Our system is built on two and only two people getting married. As it stands if two people marry, each of them are entitled to the same benefits. if we add a 3rd person (say 1 woman, 2 men) is that ONE woman entitled to twice the benefits? I don’t think so.

        • ladybugavenger April 13, 2016 at 6:48 pm

          I’m against gay marriage and polygamy. What names are you going to call me?

  • .... April 12, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    You’re not a hypocrite Dash. That’s a good comment you posted. .

    • RealMcCoy April 13, 2016 at 10:21 am

      It’s pretty hypocritical. The gay marriage advocates frequently cited how countries all over the world allowed gay marriages. Fine, let them, and now the USA.
      It can also be pointed out that many other countries allow plural marriages. You can’t just pick and choose what a marriage is anymore. If you vote to allow that ‘right’ to two men/women/whatever’s, then allow that right across the board.
      It doesn’t matter if you agree with the principle or not; the big march on government was the point that marriage should be allowed between any consenting adults.
      You can always support it for the simple reason that it will cut down on the welfare fraud, if you like.

      • Rainbow Dash April 13, 2016 at 10:45 pm

        If all allowing Polygamous marriages would do is cut down on the welfare fraud, I would support it.

        Your argument that “…the march on big government was the point that marriage should be allowed between any consenting adults…” is false. The “argument” the LGBT community made was for giving one woman (or man) who wanted to spend her (or his) life with one other woman (or man) the same rights and privileges already extended to their heterosexual counterparts.

        Gay people were not asking for ANY special rights, only those rights their heterosexual counterparts had been enjoying for hundreds of years. Nothing more, nothing less.

        • RealMcCoy April 14, 2016 at 12:53 pm

          What is your take on the plural marriages that people have been enjoying for hundreds of years, worldwide and even here in the states until somewhat recently?
          Serious question, not sarcasm.

          • Rainbow Dash April 14, 2016 at 4:19 pm

            I admit I had to take a moment o think about this answer.

            As Ive said before in comments on articles with topics that relate to this one; If you are 18 or older, you can do what you want. It’s not up to me to tell anyone who they can or cannot live with. The reason I do not support plural marriage is because the current system does not support adding a third person. I know of a few instances in the past where a man has been able to slip through the cracks and marry multiple women. this meant that he got twice the legal benefits. If a plan were introduced where that didn’t happen, I would support it.

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