Feb 4, 2016

Utah lawmaker wants to revive polygamy ban with revisions

Salt Lake Tribune
The Associated Press
February 3, 2016

Proposal » Portions of a law that were struck down in a 2013 suit would be restored.
Kody Brown sits with his wives in July at one of their homes in Las Vegas.
In the wake of a court decision that decriminalized polygamy in Utah, a state lawmaker unveiled a proposal Wednesday to revive the ban on living with multiple so-called spiritual wives.

The plan from Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab would make it a felony to live with more than one purported spouse. That would restore, with revisions, a key portion of the law struck down by a judge in 2013 after a polygamous family from the TV show "Sister Wives" sued.

State attorney Parker Douglas said the proposal would narrow the definition of the crime. If it passes, it could end the lawsuit now before a federal appeals court.

"The cohabitation issue is not on the table unless someone is purporting to be married," he said. "It could moot the appeal."

The lawyer for the "Sister Wives" family, though, says any law that bans consenting adults from living with multiple wives would likely violate their freedom of religion.

"I think any criminalizing of cohabitation among consenting adults will present the fundamental constitutional problems identified with regard to the Utah code," said attorney Jonathan Turley.

The previous Utah law made it a crime to claim multiple spiritual spouses even if they didn't all live under one roof. It also criminalized living with a second partner even if no one called the arrangement a marriage.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found the cohabitation portion of Utah's law violated the constitutional rights of Kody Brown and his four wives. He left in place the part of the law forbidding multiple legal marriage licenses, making Utah's bigamy law similar to other states.

The Utah Attorney General has appealed that decision, and the 10th Circuit Court in Denver is weighing the case after hearing arguments in January.

Noel's proposal would only target people who both live together and say they are married to multiple people. If it passes, the state could try to drop the appeal, but the Browns could contest that if the changes don't fix their problems.

Utah has a long-standing policy against prosecuting consenting adult polygamists, but Attorney General Sean Reyes argues that the law should stay on the books because it helps prosecute crimes that can be associated with polygamy, like underage marriage and exploitation of government benefits.

But polygamy advocates say there are plenty of laws already on the book against those crimes, and the reality show "Sister Wives" is evidence that plural unions can be as healthy as monogamous marriages.

Another polygamous family is also pushing back against the stricter version of the bigamy law. Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, a Republican from Draper, met with the Dargers, a polygamous family who wrote a memoir, last week.

He said considering the law while the court case is ongoing could produce a thorough discussion of the issue.


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