Like many people, I’m a fan of Sister Wives, a reality show about an FLDS family with four wives sharing one husband. (Yeah, I admit it. I watch the series with voyeuristic fascination. I just don’t understand why those smart, lovely, funny, kind women are with Kody, who strikes me as a goofball.)
Anyway, it was with some interest that I read this morning’s news that a judge ruled yesterday that Utah’s robust anti-polygamy law is unconstitutional.
Those of you who have watched the show know that after the polygamous Brown family began opening their lives to viewers in the first season of Sister Wives, legal prosecution soon followed. Utah has long had one of the nation’s harshest statutes prohibiting cohabitation, including — ironically enough, given Utah history — plural marriage. It was not going to let the Brown family venture out of their closet without a fight.
Hence the family’s move to neighboring Nevada, which has, shall we say, a less strict notion of marriage. The last two seasons of the show (which I’ve fallen behind on watching) have taken place in the Browns’ spacious new digs in Vegas. Meanwhile, the criminal charges against them were dropped, but the lawsuit they had filed remained undecided until yesterday.
As the New York Times explained when the suit was filed in 2011,
the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses.
Apparently this legal strategy was successful. According to today’s Salt Lake Tribune, some parts of the old Utah statute remain intact while others, which made cohabitation illegal, were struck down. The bottom line is that polygamy is no longer a crime in the state of Utah.
It’s a victory for the Browns, who are not Mormon (LDS) but members of a fundamentalist group called the Apostolic United Brethren. Founded by Rulon Allred, it is considered a more moderate sect than the FLDS and other polygamous groups.*
But it’s also a potential victory for religious freedom in America. As long as their plural unions are not violating other laws (all parties are consenting legal adults, etc.), polygamists in Utah will join the ranks of other kinds of non-nuclear, nontraditional families that deserve equal treatment under the law.
Will the mainstream LDS Church laud the decision? No way. If anything, I would expect the LDS Church to distance itself publicly from the AUB and the Browns, reminding the world once again that we Mormons are not polygamists, have not been for well over a century, etc.
* For an insider’s perspective on Allred and the AUB, an interesting book is Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk, a memoir by Allred’s daughter Dorothy Allred Solomon, who is now LDS.