U.S. District Court judge Clark Waddoups’ issued a 91-page ruling on Friday which effectively decriminalizes polygamy in the state of Utah.
The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Waddoups’ surprise ruling is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by Kody Brown, star of TLC’s hit show, Sister Wives, which follows the lives of Brown, his four wives and their brood of 18 children.
Waddoups ruled that language in Utah’s 1973 statute prohibiting polygamous cohabitation is unconstitutional, citing the phrase “or cohabits with another person” to be a violation of both the First and 14th amendments. Even though there is no fundamental right to practice polygamy, simply living together doesn’t amount to being married, he said.
The ruling essentially makes it legal in Utah to live with multiple partners; however bigamy, which is the act of fraudulently acquiring marriage licenses to enter into more than one legal marriage, remains illegal in the state.
“The court finds the cohabitation prong of the Statute unconstitutional on numerous grounds and strikes it,” Waddoups writes.
The Browns applauded the ruling. “While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our beliefs,” Brown wrote in a statement obtained through his lawyer. “Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, 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.”
Jonathan Turley, who represented the Brown family, was also pleased by the decision and wrote in a blog post that the ruling strikes down “the criminalization of polygamy” and will allow “plural families to step out for the first time in their communities and live their lives openly among their neighbors.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert expressed concern over the decision and has instructed his legal counsel to determine the ramifications of the decision.
Legal scholars such as Jonathan S. Tobin are already weighing in on the decision. “Waddoups’s ruling merely illustrates what follows from a legal trend in which longstanding definitions are thrown out. The inexorable logic of the end of traditional marriage laws leads us to legalized polygamy.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, keys on the fact that Judge Waddoup’s ruling was based on the findings in the 2003 case known as Lawrence v. Texas which struck down all state laws outlawing sodomy because they violated the privacy rights of consenting adults. It was this case and the resultant decriminalization of homosexual relations that opened the door to what would eventually lead to judicial victory for same-sex marriage.
“Of course, the moral revolution that has transformed marriage in our times did not start with the demand for legal same-sex marriage,” Dr. Mohler points out. “It did not begin with homosexuality at all, but with the sexual libertinism that demanded (and achieved) a separation of marriage and sex, liberating sex from the confines of marriage. So sex was separated from marriage, and then sex was separated from the expectation of procreation and child-rearing. Marriage was separated from sex, sex was separated from reproduction, and the revolution was launched. Adding to the speed of this revolution, then, was the advent of no-fault divorce and the transformation of marriage into a tentative and often temporary contract.”
Once that damage had been done, he writes, “the demand to legalize same-sex marriage could not be far behind. And now polygamy is enjoying its moment of legal liberation.”
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