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Federal Judge Strikes Down Part Of Utah’s Polygamy Ban

In this undated file photo provided by TLC, Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine, Meri, and Robyn in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show, "Sister Wives."
Image credit: Bryant Livingston

A federal judge on Wednesday finalized a ruling that strikes down part of Utah’s ban on polygamy.

The case is high profile partly because the suit was brought forth by the Brown family, the stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives.” It’s also important because as it works its way through the appeals process, it has the potential to become a landmark.

As the Salt Lake Tribune reads the decision, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups says the part of the law that prohibits cohabitation between adults to whom they are not legally married violates both the First and 14th Amendments.

The paper adds:

“Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Waddoups said the ban violated the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

“Waddoups let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.

“In the final portion of his ruling Wednesday, Waddoups found the Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy. At the time the Browns lived in Lehi. They have since moved to Nevada. Buhman eventually decided not to file criminal charges, but Waddoups said the investigation stifled the Browns’ rights to free speech, religion and equal protection.”

The AP reports that the Utah attorney general is weighing whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

In a blog post, the Brown family’s lawyer, Jonathan Turley, said he hopes that the AG will not appeal the case. He said that Americans should not fear prosecution solely because of the structure of their family.

“Neither the Attorney General nor the state of Utah should fight a ruling that reaffirmed freedom of religion and equal protection,” Turley wrote. “Utah is a state that was founded by citizens seeking those very rights against government abuse. Utah is better place because of the courageous decision of Judge Waddoups and the commitment of the Brown family in defense of our Constitution.”

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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