Federal Judge Rules for Sister Wives, Despite Utah Law

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on August 28, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a man and his four sister wives in a decision that struck down a portion of Utah's anti-polygamy law.

The case involved the stars of television reality series "Sister Wives," who filed a civil rights lawsuit against Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman following a 2010 investigation into allegations of bigamy, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Does this "Sister Wives" ruling mean that polygamy is now legal?

'Sister Wives' Lawsuit

The lawsuit that led to the ruling was brought in 2011 by Kody Brown and his four "wives," the stars of TLC's "Sister Wives." Brown is only legally married to one of his wives, with the other three being his "spiritual wives" whom he wedded in religious ceremonies.

Under Utah's bigamy law, however, a person who was married was guilty of bigamy simply by cohabiting with another person. After being investigated, but ultimately not charged with violating the state's bigamy law, the Browns brought suit claiming the law was an unconstitutional violation of their privacy.

District Court Ruling

In ruling in favor of the Browns, District Court Judge Clark Waddoups stopped short of invalidating the entire Utah bigamy statute, which would have essentially legalized polygamy in the state. Rather, Waddoups ordered that Utah's statute be rewritten to omit the portion that prohibits cohabiting with another person.

The judge also ordered that another portion of the bigamy statute, that prohibited purporting to marry another person be narrowed to "save the statute from being invalidated in its entirety." The new, more narrowly constructed statute would prohibit a married person from entering into any further purportedly "legal" union, which would seem to allow for so-called "spiritual" marriages like those entered into by Brown and his additional wives.

In addition, the court found that as the prevailing parties in a lawsuit for enforcement of an their civil rights under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code, the Browns were entitled to attorney's fees, costs and other expenses incurred in the lawsuit.

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