Polygamists just want to be treated like everyone else, without fear of being thrown into prison.
But unfortunately for polygamists in Utah, state laws don’t exactly agree with their wishes. Merely mentioning that one is married to more than a single woman could land the individual in prison for up to five years.
The stars of the TV show, “Sister Wives” on TLC have attempted to sue the state of Utah as well as the county in Utah that they fled. The family is trying to convince a federal judge that bigamy laws in the state are unconstitutional.
Tens of thousands of fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy in the United States; many of them live in Utah. Meanwhile, the state of Utah has already publicly stated that it will not prosecute any consenting adults practising polygamy as long as the individuals are not involved in any other crimes.
In the United States, states hold the power to regulate marriage. The county that is being sued along with the state of Utah is moving to have the case against it dismissed. It is claiming that because the Browns are not being prosecuted, the Browns do not really have a case.
A hearing was held in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. During the hearing, a judge continued to question the state prosecutors, asking for reasons that the case should not be allowed to move forward in court.
The judge went on to say that Utah County’s response to the Browns is simply an attempt to avoid dealing with the issue. “What about the next couple?” asked the judge.
General Jerold Jensen, Utah’s Assistant Attorney General responded by saying that over 30,000 individuals practiced polygamy in Utah and were not being prosecuted. “Utah County does not want to prosecute people for the practice of polygamy, period.” Jensen said.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor from Washington D.C. is acting as the Brown’s attorney. He argues that even though the Browns are not being prosecuted, they are still victims as they have to live with the stigma of being potential felons.
Last year, the Browns relocated to Nevada after having fled Utah.
According to Turley, the state’s claim that it will not prosecute polygamists is not legally binding and therefore does not guarantee protection for any of the polygamists currently practicing in Utah.
Whether the case will continue is still undecided. The judge has said he will make a decision on the issue at a later time.
Turley also claims that intimate relationships in private are protected by the U.S. Constitution. This is based on a previous Supreme Court ruling which defeated sodomy laws in Texas.
Utah’s laws may seem particularly strict to those who grew up in other environments. Utah laws ban sexual relationships as well as co-habitation for couples that are unmarried.
In the past there have been few cases against polygamists in Utah unless the individuals were also involved in additional crimes.
Throughout history, polygamy has been associated with abuse and underage marriage. So while this case will probably not be laughed at, a victory for polygamists may not yet be on the horizon.