Federal Court Holds Utah’s Polygamy Law Unconstitutional

A few days ago, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups found in favor of the now famous Brown family holding key portions of Utah’s polygamy law unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Waddoups held specifically the Utah statute regarding cohabitation was a violation of the first and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The judge stated in part, “The court finds the cohabitation prong of the Statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it…” The court did not go as far as to out right reject bigamy or actually marrying more than one individual. However, the court took a narrow view of bigamy not striking down the law against fraudulently obtaining more than one marriage license. Additionally, the court did not address the issue entirely over whether or not the state can limit marriage licenses to a single man and woman. Nonetheless, for proponents of polygamous relationships, the ruling was a huge victory. The law effectively allows polygamy to occur so long as couples do not seek additional marriage licenses from the state.

The Future of Polygamy in Utah

For now, polygamy is in large part effectively decriminalized but it may not remain that way. The Utah Attorney General’s office has long proclaimed their intent to appeal any federal court decision which failed to uphold any portion of the law. Both Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, former attorney generals, were clear on their desires to seek reconsideration and/or appeals on the issue. However, with the Attorney General’s office mired in scandal, and a new attorney general yet to be appointed, it is unclear what position the office will take. An attorney general will soon be appointed by Gov. Herbert. From the cast of the 3 potential appointees, it seems likely they will move forward with an appeal. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals could end up ultimately making the final decision on the issue of polygamy inUtah. Or potentially, even the U.S. Supreme Court could step in. Nationally, with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and gay rights related issues, there is a growing argument polygamy may soon be decriminalized across the board.

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