This past Friday the 13th, the Federal District Court for the District of Utah ruled that parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy law are unconstitutional as violations of the United States Constitution’s free exercise of religion and due process protections. The court ruled that part of the state’s law prohibiting “cohabitation” (the term used in the statute to prohibit polygamist relationships) was unconstitutional, but has continued to allow the state to prevent multiple marriages in the literal sense of forbidding an individual from having two or more valid marriage licenses. Interestingly, the plaintiff in the case is reality television star Kody Brown of the television series “Sister Wives,” tracking the life of Mr. Brown, his four wives, and their seventeen children (the show was news to us; you can read about it here).
While we are still digesting the court’s 91-page decision, we leave you with this nugget from the court:
To state the obvious, the intervening years have witnessed significant strengthening of numerous provisions of the Bill of Rights, and practical and morally defensible identification of “penumbral” rights “of privacy and repose” emanating from those key provisions of the Bill of Rights, as the Supreme Court over decades assumed a general posture less inclined to allow majoritarian coercion of unpopular or disliked minority groups, especially when blatant racism (as expressed through Orientalism/imperialism), religious prejudice or some other constitutionally suspect motivation, can be discovered behind such legislation.
Kody Brown said in a statement that he and his family were “humbled and grateful for this historical ruling from the court today.” He acknowledged that “many people do not approve of plural families,” but “we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs.” Photographs of Kody Brown and his family are available here.
PS There are land use dimensions to polygamy. The Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) of Bluffdale, Utah applied for a zone change for land in Bluffdale where the polygamist group proposed to build up to eight homes for retirees as we reported in an earlier posting this year. See Does RLUIPA Protect Polygamists? (April 8, 2013). The May 28, 2013 minutes of the Bluffdale City Council (available here) indicate that the Bluffdale Planning Commission and City Council both approved the AUB’s zone change application.