‘Sister Wives’ Star Wins Battle Over Utah Polygamy Ban

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A federal judge issued a final ruling in the “Sister Wives” challenge of Utah’s bigamy law, awarding the polygamous Brown family costs and fees.
     Kody Brown and his so-called sister wives – Meri, Janelle and Christine Brown, and Robyn Sullivan – claimed the law, which allegedly chased them from the Beehive State to Nevada, violated the First and 14th Amendments.
     Brown is “civilly married” to Meri Brown, he says, and “spiritually married” to the other three women.
     After TLC introduced America to the “plural family” with the television show “Sister Wives” in 2010, the Lehi City Police Department allegedly threatened legal action against the Browns in interviews with People Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and other media outlets.
     “In January 2010, [Brown] and the co-plaintiffs fled Utah for fear that Utah law enforcement officials would prosecute them under the state’s criminal bigamy stature for maintaining a plural family,” the family claimed.
     U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, in December 2013, sided with the Browns, ruling key parts of Utah’s polygamy laws were unconstitutional.
     Specifically, Waddoups said, the phrase “or cohabits with another person” was a violation of both the First and 14th amendments.
     Waddoups added that while there was no “fundamental right” to practice polygamy in the state, the issue centered on “religious cohabitation.”
     The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, or Mormons, actively practiced polygamy in the 1800s, Waddoups recounted. In 1890, then-LDS President Wilford Woodruff received a “revelation” that the leaders of the church should “cease teaching the practice of plural marriage,” officials say.
     When Mormons practiced polygamy, Waddoups said, “religious cohabitation” in Utah could have actually resulted in “multiple purportedly legal marriages.” Today, simply living together doesn’t amount to being “married,” he added.
     “The court finds the cohabitation prong of the statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it,” the 91-page ruling states.
     This week, Waddoups upheld the ruling and said the Browns were entitled to attorney’s fees, costs and expenses incurred in the action.
     Specifically, Waddoups found, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the family was committing bigamy.
     “In severing the cohabitation prong of Utah’s Anti-Bigamy Statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101(1) in its memorandum decision and order granting in part plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment dated Dec. 13, 2013, the court has therefore provided the relief sought while leaving the statute in force as narrowly construed in the absence of the cohabitation prong,” the 5-page ruling states. “That order is fully incorporated herein for purposes of the below final judgment in this case.”
     Waddoups pointedly called the bigamy law “facially unconstitutional.”
     “It is hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that Utah Code Ann. § 76- 7-101 (2013) is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase ‘or cohabits with another person’ is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; to preserve the integrity of the statute, as enacted by the Utah State Legislature, the court hereby severs the phrase ‘or cohabits with another person’ from Utah Code § 76-7-101(1),” the ruling adds.
     “It is further ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the statute is readily susceptible to and the court hereby adopts a narrowing construction of the terms ‘marry’ and ‘purports to marry’ to save the statute from being invalidated in its entirety, and that portion of the statute is upheld as constitutional.”
     The Browns were represented in the action by Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
     Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is said to be reviewing the judge’s ruling.

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