Friday, August 29, 2014

Utah's "Polygamy Ban" Struck Down

Back when Utah was originally trying to join the United States it was mostly settled by Mormons, many of whom practiced polygamy. As a condition of statehood, Utah was required to ban the practice, not only in terms of granting multiple marriage licenses but also in terms of prohibiting "cohabitation" between unmarried individuals.

Due to this history, Utah was until recently one of the only states where it was actually illegal for unmarried people to live together. This ridiculous law has finally been overturned. The case originated with the polygamous family of Kody Brown, stars of the reality television series "Sister Wives." In 2010, the state of Utah investigated charging the family with bigamy under the cohabitation statute, which led to the current ruling.

Federal Judge Clark Waddoups in December struck the section of Utah’s bigamy statute that can be applied when someone "cohabits with another person" to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.

In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns’ rights to free speech, religion and equal protection.

So thanks to this ruling Utah's laws regarding these issues are finally in line with the rest of the country, and it only took them 120 years. This just goes to show how moral panics, such as that surrounding Mormon polygamy in the 1880's, can have long and far-reaching effects. It's always better to cut such nonsense off at the source if doing so is in any way possible.

It should be noted that you still can't legally marry more than one person in Utah, just like you can't in any other state. But this ruling means that Utah can no longer prosecute people based on their living situations.

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Al said...

Actually, it is illegal in several states still, such as Flordia and Michigan.

Scott Stenwick said...

The case looks like it could be bound for the Supreme Court, so there's a possibility that it could be struck down nationwide. It's an awfully silly law, so I hope so.

BarefootDreamer said...

Personally, I don't see the problem with polygamy. But then, I don't believe in marriage :)

Scott Stenwick said...

The problem I've heard a lot about from people who grew up in groups that still practice it is not polygamy itself, but rather the authority granted to leaders like Warren Jeffs who would arrange plural marriages for his followers regardless of their feelings about said arrangements.

That being said, as long as there's no coercion going on I don't have a problem with it either. I actually think that civil and religious marriage should be completely separate, instead of the weird hybrid arrangement we have now in the US. So you would just file paperwork to be legally married, and then go through whatever religious ceremony your religion requires, or just have a celebration or something if you're not religious.