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“Sister Wives” Stars Defeated in Federal Court Case

“Sister Wives” Stars Defeated in Federal Court Case
April 19
16:22 2016
The popular TV show “Sister Wives” stars a polygamous family that includes husband Kody Brown, his four “wives,” and their combined 17 children. The family says the show is a great way to spread the word that polygamous marriages can be happy and successful.

This Monday, a federal appeals court dismissed a landmark decision in 2004 that had decriminalized polygamy in the state of Utah. This is a serious blow for the Brown family. Kody and his four “wives” are trying to sue the state, claiming the law is unconstitutional. However, they cannot sue in regards to the ban on plural marriages because the Brown family has not faced charges.

Kody and his family moved to Las Vegas last year after threats of prosecution.

But according to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, local prosecutors agree not prosecute consenting husbands with multiple wives.

Monday’s decision overturns a 2013 ruling that erased the threat of arrest for polygamous families. While US District judge Clark Waddoups considers Utah’s bigamy law in violation of religious freedom and the right to privacy, one fact remains:

Authorities do not prosecute polygamous families.

sister-wives-robyn-brown-kodyState prosecutors argue that the ban should stay in effect only to help police chase down polygamists who commit crimes including statutory rape, sexual assault, and exploitation of government benefits.

The situation is analogous to the law in 22 states that makes adultery illegal. It is not enforced, but the law is beneficial in certain situations.

Polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs provides a good example of why the ban should remain. Jeffs was imprisoned after sexually assaulting underage women he considered “wives.”

In fact, girls as young as 13 are being forced into polygamous marriages. Studies show that teenagers involved in such relationships are more prone to depression than those in monogamous relationships.

The Browns are considering asking the 10th Circuit to reconsider or potentially appealing to the Supreme Court. Jonathan Turley, a well-known lawyer who is representing the polygamous family, explains, “The underlying rights of religious freedom and free speech are certainly too great to abandon after prevailing below in this case.”

The Brown family argues that Utah already has laws in place that allow authorities to target crimes linked to polygamy. They claim that the act of banning the practice altogether would sow distrust between the state the 30,000 polygamists currently living in Utah.

Turley’s arguments are valid, but unnecessary:

• Utah’s polygamy statue is too broad because not only does it prohibit bigamy, but it also prohibits individuals from living with multiple partners or even claiming that you are married to multiple people.
• Utah’s polygamy statue violates a person’s right to freely associate with whomever they so choose

According to state laws, Kody Brown has but one marriage license. He considers his other three marriages “spiritual.”

It doesn’t seem like Turley’s arguments will hold up. A Supreme Court decision in 2004 makes it ok to say “this is unlawful” as long as it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. In this case, that interest is to protect children.

As I mentioned above, young girls are being forced into marriage. Meanwhile, boys are kicked out into the street because they are viewed as competition for older men seeking numerous brides.

The 10th Circuit did not consider the constitutional questions associated with the case because it found that the Brown family lacked the legal standing to sue.

Utah believes the court made the right decision.

“It is gratifying,” says attorney general spokesman Parker Douglas. “In this case, I don’t think the Browns had a legitimate fear of prosecution.”

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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