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Judge seeks explanation for Utah's polygamy policy

Published July 25, 2012 6:50 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At the Sister Wives hearing today (story here), U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups seemed to be picking apart Utah's unique approach polygamy, which generally boils down to this: Bigamy is a felony, and it should stay that way. But if you're a polygamist who otherwise keeps your nose clean, we'll leave you alone.

Prosecutors want to keep the law on the books by pledging to enforce it only when someone has committed another crime. But why?

There are several practical reasons avoid going after consenting adults: It would be too expensive. Attorneys don't have time. There are bigger fish to fry, both within and outside the state's polygamous communities, and they want to build trust of people in those communities. It's politically unpopular. They don't want to get sued.

But Waddoups seemed to want an answer that would speak to the larger public policy, and maybe even moral, reasons for that position. He didn't get it from Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen.

It's hard to predict how judges will rule. Sometimes the side they question the most closely is the one they end up agreeing with. But Waddoups seems ready for a full hearing on whether Utah's bigamy law is constitutional, something he said is important to a lot of people.

After all, to quote Jensen:

"Let's all admit it," he said. "It's a pretty interesting issue."