A federal judge will hear arguments in January on whether Utah’s law banning polygamy is unconstitutional as part of a lawsuit filed by a polygamous family made famous by a reality TV show.
The stars of “Sister Wives” argue the law violates their right to privacy and freedom of expression, and that they were unfairly targeted for investigation after the debut of their show.
“The criminal law is designed to hang like a sword of Damocles over the heads of plural families in Utah — keeping them in forced silence and obscurity,” an attorney for Kody Brown and his four wives argued in court documents.
State lawyers, on the other hand, point to other court decisions upholding the ban and say marriage and can be regulated by the government. They argue the law is fairly applied to both polygamists and people who commit fraud by marrying more than one unknowing person at a time.
Deputy Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen said polygamists shouldn’t rely on Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark 2003 right-to-privacy case that struck down laws banning inmate homosexual contact.
“Plaintiffs try to equate private sexual conduct in the home with marriage,” he wrote in court documents. “They are not the synonymous.”
In an effort to have the suit thrown out, prosecutors have said they won’t prosecute the Browns or any other consenting adult polygamists who haven’t committed other crimes. “Sister Wives” attorney Jonathan Turley, though, said laws already on the books should be enough to prosecute polygamists for other crimes.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups has twice sided with the Browns in refusing to throw out the lawsuit. He ruled that a police investigation into the family after the 2010 debut of their show had a possible “chilling effect” on their free speech. Last week, he decided the prosecutor’s new policy not to charge consenting adult polygamists didn’t render the suit moot.
The Lehi natives moved to Nevada after police opened the investigation. Their show is the highest-rated on the TLC network.
The two sides have already filed competing motions for summary judgement, but may also file new documents arguing their case, following a series of deadlines in September.
Utah’s bigamy law makes both legal and “spiritual” multiple marriages felonies.
The Polygamy Blog: www.sltrib.com/blogs/polygblog
A hearing in a lawsuit challenging Utah’s bigamy law has been set for 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 17.