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#SisterWives Crusade to Legalize Polygamy Faces Federal Appeals Panel

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SisterWives Crusade to Legalize Polygamy Faces Federal Appeals Panel

The effort to legalize polygamy was brought to the highest legal level yet on Thursday, as the family made famous by TLC’s Sister Wives, continued their legal crusade before a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.  

The panel questioned Utah’s state lawyer, Parker Douglas, as it heard arguments on the state’s appeal of a ruling that struck down key parts of a law banning polygamy. The Browns are urging the court to uphold a ruling that found key parts of Utah’s bigamy law forbidding cohabitation violated the family’s right to religious freedom.

READ: Inside #SisterWives Kody Brown and His Four Wives’ Polygamy Lawsuit Against The State of Utah

The judges also asked how the law hurt Kody Brown, or his wives, considering Utah has a longstanding policy against prosecuting law-abiding polygamists. 

Judge Nancy Moritz asked Douglas to clarify how a law that is so rarely used is needed to curb abuses such as underage unions. Douglas explained that prosecutors don’t bring charges often, but when they do, the law is helpful in strengthening cases and gathering evidence. Prosecutors have cited links between crimes such as sexual assault, statutory rape and exploitation of government benefits, and polygamy. 

READ: ‘Sister Wives’ Lawsuit Update — Does Meri Brown’s Catfish Scandal Shine Light on Dysfunction In Polygamy?

The Browns want the court to uphold a ruling that found key parts of Utah’s bigamy law forbidding cohabitation violated the family’s right to religious freedom. The Sister Wives stars claim that their show reveals that polygamist unions can be as healthy as monogamous ones, and that making such marriages illegal violates the right to privacy and freedom of religion.

Judge Scott Matheson challenged Douglas, asking why Utah said so little about these constitutional issues. 

“Maybe you disagree with them. Maybe you don’t. But I don’t see it in your brief. And that’s a problem,” Judge Scott Matheson told Douglas.

Douglas told the judges that Utah does not believe the law infringes on free speech or discriminates based on religion. Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who is representing the Brown family for free, claimed that even though Utah has no plans to prosecute the Browns, a threat lingers. He noted that the Browns have been publicly labeled as felons by Utah officials, and that the family would like to return to the home of their religion one day. The Browns moved to Nevada, abruptly leaving Utah, supposedly because of fearing prosecution. 

“That’s the type of harm that can be hard to imagine if it’s never happened to you,” Turley told the judges.

This legal struggle follows the 2013 ruling by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, which removed the threat of arrest for plural families. The state of Utah argues that the decision could weaken the state’s ability to go after polygamists such as imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted for assaulting underage girls, he considered wives.   

READ: #SisterWives Stars Kody Brown and His Four Wives Use Gay Ruling in Polygamy Case

According to court documents, there are about 30,000 polygamists living in Utah. They believe that polygamy leads to exaltation in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church has long abandoned the practice, and strictly prohibits it today. 

 

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