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Utah Judge Declares Parts of Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional

  • Dec 17 / 2013
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Utah Judge Declares Parts of Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional

by Tom Strode
Baptist Press

A federal court has struck down a vital section of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, lending credence to arguments by defenders of marriage that the reshaping of the institution would not end with legalizing same-sex unions.

Clark Waddoups, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Utah, invalidated a portion of the state law that prohibits bigamy, essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the process. In a 91-page opinion released Dec. 13, the federal judge ruled as unconstitutional a section prohibiting a married person from cohabiting with someone who is not his or her spouse.

In effect, Waddoups legalized polygamy as it is practiced in Utah primarily by members of fundamentalist spinoffs of the Mormon religion. Such polygamous households typically do not have multiple marriage licenses but treat all relationships between a man and the women with whom he lives as marriages. Waddoups ruled the cohabitation section of Utah’s anti-polygamy law violated the free religious exercise clause of the United States Constitution’s First Amendment and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Kody Brown and his four wives, who are featured in the television reality show “Sister Wives” on TLC. Brown and only one of his wives have a marriage license. They are members of the Apostolic United Brethren, which believes polygamy is “a core religious practice,” according to Waddoups’ opinion.

Defenders of the biblical and historic view of marriage said the decision undermines the institution and provides more evidence that its redefinition will be more expansive than just incorporating same-sex relationships.

“Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing,” Russell D. Moore said in a statement released Dec. 14. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults, divorced from the needs of children for a mother and a father committed to each other for life,” Moore said. “Polygamy was outlawed in this country because it was demonstrated, again and again, to hurt women and children.”

R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a Monday (Dec. 16) blog post, “In one sense, the decision was almost inevitable, given the trajectory of both the culture and the federal courts. On the other hand, the sheer shock of the decision serves as an alarm: marriage is being utterly redefined before our eyes, and in the span of a single generation.

“Now, with the logic of moral revolution transforming marriage in all respects, polygamy follows same-sex marriage,” Mohler added. “If marriage can be redefined in terms of gender, it can easily be redefined in terms of number.”

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