by Ben Winslow and Mark Green
A federal judge declared a portion of Utah’s polygamy ban unconstitutional late Wednesday, essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the state.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled the phrase in the law “‘or cohabits with another person’ is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives, who left Utah fearing prosecution. They sued the state, arguing that the ban violated their right to freely practice their religion.
The ruling follows a similar order in December of last year that the judge took back while he decided the issue of damages. In the order, Judge Waddoups did preserve the phrases “marry” and “purports to marry” to “save the statute from being invalidated in its entirety.”
The judge also awarded financial compensation to the Brown family.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office told FOX 13 late Wednesday it was reviewing the ruling. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told FOX 13’s Ben Winslow in an interview last year that he intended to appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“After this decision, abuse of spouses and children will continue to be prosecuted regardless of whether they occur in monogamous or polygamous families. These protective services will only be strengthened now that many families can openly integrate into society and not fear prosecution merely because of their family structure,” he wrote.
“Utah is a state that was founded by citizens seeking those very rights against government abuse. Utah is better place because of the courageous decision of Judge Waddoups and the commitment of the Brown family in defense of our Constitution.”
Kody Brown and his wives issued a statement late Wednesday. It reads:
“The entire Brown family is gratified and thankful for this final ruling from Judge Waddoups. The decision brings closure for our family and further reaffirms the right of all families to be free from government abuse. While we know that many people do not approve of plural families, it is our family and based on our religious beliefs. Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs. We hope that Attorney General Reyes will see this as a victory of us all in defending the freedom of religion and other rights in our precious Constitution. We want to particularly thank our lead counsel Professor Jonathan Turley who represented us through the criminal investigation and then led the fight against this law to reach this historic decision. We also want to thank the team of lawyers and students from George Washington, including our local counsel Adam Alba. We are so honored and blessed to have been able to serve as the vehicle for this milestone ruling. Professor Turley has pledged to defend this decision on appeal and we are equally committed to fight to preserve this now final and complete victory.”