Polygamy bill held up pending Utah legal case

By Michelle L. Price

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 3 2014 3:19 p.m. MST

FILE - In this undated file photo provided by TLC, Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine, Meri, and Robyn in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show, "Sister Wives." A lawmaker who says Utah should avoid legislating morality wants to change the law to comply with a federal judge’s ruling striking down key parts of the state’s polygamy laws.

TLC, Bryant Livingston, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to strip away a key part of Utah's polygamy laws was scrapped for this year because of a pending legal case, a state lawmaker said Monday.

Rep. Jerry Anderson, R-Price, said he's abandoning his bill that would make Utah laws comply with a federal judge's ruling that struck down a key part of the state polygamy statute.

In December, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups threw out the part of the bigamy law that bans cohabitation. Waddoups said the provision was a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.

The Utah attorney general's office might appeal the ruling, so Anderson said he's dropping his proposal this year because lawmakers don't want to interfere.

Anderson said he originally introduced the bill because the cohabitation clause has made polygamous families illegal, creating tough situations for law enforcement.

He said there are times when officers or prosecutors are reluctant to enforce the laws to break up families.

It also keeps those families in the shadows, which interferes with government interests such as U.S. Census counts, he said.

"That was the aim of that thing to just bring it out so they can get on record and be responsible and get counted," Anderson said about his proposal. "Beyond that, I didn't have any ideas about promoting polygamy or any of that stuff."

There are an estimated 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons who practice or believe in polygamy, according to the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices. Most of them live in Utah and other states in the West.

Practicing polygamists are outside the mainstream Mormon church, which prohibits the practice for its 15 million members worldwide.

After Waddoups' ruling, The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterated that it abandoned polygamy in 1890 and strictly bars the practice.

Anderson said that in general, governments should use restraint when trying to pass laws based on moral values.

"We run into real problems when we try to legislate morality in any case," he said.

The cohabitation clause made Utah's polygamy law much stricter than in 49 other states. Bigamy, the holding of marriage licenses with multiple partners, is still illegal under the ruling.

In most polygamous families in Utah, the man is legally married to one woman but only "spiritually married" to the others.

The ruling in December was welcomed by Kody Brown and his four wives, who star in the hit TLC cable TV reality show "Sister Wives," and other fundamentalist Mormons that practice polygamy with the belief it brings exaltation in heaven.

The Brown family sued Utah overt its polygamy laws in 2011 and fled Utah for Las Vegas under the threat of prosecution.

Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican, is waiting for a final ruling from Waddoups before announcing whether he will appeal. The final ruling has been delayed because of unresolved matters in the case relating to whether Brown and his wives will seek monetary damages

Reyes' spokeswoman Missy Larsen says the attorney general intends to appeal, but needs to review the final ruling first before making that call.

Online:

HB 58: http://1.usa.gov/1bVu5UQ

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