Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

Victory in Utah for family battling anti-polygamy law

The institution of marriage has changed many times since its inception. The United States system of marriage and the laws enforcing it are mostly based on the puritan structure and belief system of marriage. Laws stemming from this belief are what have created the current exclusive legal reality of one man-one woman marriages in many states, including Utah. As the basis for these laws is challenged by individuals and groups who claim to be irreparably harmed by them, other commonly held concepts of marriage are being challenged by individuals who thrive outside of the traditional definition of marriage.

A U.S. federal judge has set new legal precedent by siding with the family who initiated a lawsuit against the state of Utah for its anti-polygamy laws. The stars of TLC reality series "Sister Wives" filed suit against the state for alleged violations of their First and Fourth Amendment rights. The ruling, which was issued on Friday, was 91 pages in length and has effectively decriminalized polygamy. Critics of the practice have pointed out the past instances of abuse of children and women who were forced to live under the system. Supporters, on the other hand, reasoned that allowing multiple adults to live in the same household doesn't legalize abuse. Utah's Attorney General is reviewing the case and an appeal may be in the works.

Utah's law against polygamy was uniquely restrictive, as it made it illegal for married adults to cohabitate with adults who are not their legal spouses. While the lawsuit was based on the 2003 arguments against a sodomy ban in Texas, the elimination of common law marriage also plays a major role in the decision. When the laws were written, simply cohabitating with an adult for an extended period of time could result in a common law marriage that would result in bigamy. While the law against bigamy is still in place, it is only illegal in the literal sense of someone trying to marry multiple people by obtaining false or fraudulent marriage licenses. There will likely be other challenges across the country to similar family laws. This makes the future of traditional marriage as the only legally acceptable form of marriage obsolete.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, "Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional," Jim Dalrymple II, Dec. 13, 2013

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