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Editorial: Judge wise to leave 'Sister Wives' family alone

Published December 17, 2013 1:13 pm

Court wisely leaves family alone
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"[T]he court also feels compelled to identify an absurdity in the State's position against religious cohabitation in this context of trying to 'protect' the institution of marriage by criminalizing religious cohabitation. At a time of much discussion in society about problems arising from the decline in rates of people marrying or the increased age at which people decide to marry, the Statute penalizes people for making a firm marriage-like commitment to each other." — Federal District Judge Clark Waddoups

Kody Brown has the same number of legal wives today as he had last week: One.

He still has no right to defraud women, children or the state, to have sexual relations with under-age girls or claim any rights, protections, recognition or government benefits that are not equally available to people who live with, are intimate with, or have children with people to whom they are not legally wed.

What he does have, thanks to a wise and deeply thought-out ruling from Judge Waddoups, is some security that neither he, nor the woman he is legally married to, nor the other three women he has taken as wives under the tenets of his religious faith, nor any of the their children, will risk being torn asunder by a state prosecutor who might feel a personal, political or religious need to haul the lot of them into court.

The Brown family, focus of the reality TV program "Sister Wives," sought protection from a federal court after their decision to get about as public as possible with their unusual domestic arrangement led to denouncements and threats — later retracted — of prosecution from government officials.

Waddoups took 91 pages to outline what boils down to a simple and common sense decision. When a man says he is married to more than one woman in the eyes of his faith, but makes no claim of being married to more than one woman in the eyes of the state, he has committed no crime. If anything, he has set himself morally above the many men who engage in procreative relationships with multiple women and make no pledge of support to any of them.

After this ruling, Utah will still issue valid marriage licenses only to couples where neither of them is already legally married to someone else. Fraud, whether the victim is the state or another person, is still illegal. Abuse of a spouse, lover or child is just as illegal, just as despicable, as it was last week. Having sexual relations with a woman who is shy of the age of consent, with or without a claim of marriage, is still a serious crime.

And the Brown family, or some members thereof, may still find themselves at a disadvantage to those who can claim tax, inheritance and other legal benefits that are, still, open only to those whose marriage is recognized by the state.

But after Waddoups' ruling, the marriage(s) of Kody Brown is/are not threatened.

And, more importantly, neither is yours.