Utah Judge Strikes Down Polygamy Law in Sister Wives Case

Two years ago, polygamous Kody Brown and his four wives filed a suit challenging their state's bigamy law, and late Friday, they saw a surprising victory. In a ruling that will have major implications for Utah's polygamy laws, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the Brown family, striking down a state law equating cohabitation to polygamy — Utah's main instrument for prosecuting polygamists, who are often married via religious but unofficial ceremonies.

The decision, handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, found the provision in state law forbidding cohabitation to violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees basic rights, including freedom of religion — effectively making polygamy legal. According to Waddoups, the state's ban on polygamy will now only be taken "in the literal sense -- the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage." Up till now, Utah's bigamy law made it illegal to live together or even claim to have multiple spouses — making it stricter than 49 other states, most of the which also take the ban in the literal sense of having multiple marriage licenses.

The decision has inflamed many conservatives, however.

"This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults, divorced from the needs of children for a mother and a father committed to each other for life," said Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, making a clearly pointed reference to the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling earlier this year, which struck down the federal law that defined marriage as between only one man and one woman.

"Polygamy was outlawed in this country because it was demonstrated, again and again, to hurt women and children. Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing," Moore said.

He isn't the first to draw parralels between homosexuality and polygamy. Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) somehow managed to go from gay marriage and polygamy to bestiality in one fell swoop. When asked by Conservative commentator Glenn Beck whether “if you change one variable…to a man and a man and a woman and a woman, you cannot tell me then that you can’t logically change the other variable…who are you to say if I am an American citizen that I can’t have multiple marriages?”, Paul responded: “…It is difficult, because if we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans?”

Others have rejoiced over the decision, however, calling the ruling a victory for individual liberty. The president of the Libertas Institute said the ruling represents "a new beginning and an important invalidation of an unjust law.""Now that we're no longer felons, that's a huge relief," the co-founder of the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices told The Associated Press. "They no longer have to be afraid that someone will knock at their door and take away their kids. This decision will hopefully take away the stigma of living a principle that's a strongly held religious belief."

The ruling was of course also a personal victory for the Brown family, stars of the TLC's reality show 'Sister Wives'. "Many people do not approve of plural families," Brown and his family said in a statement, but "we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs."