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Utah defends anti-polygamy law

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2015 | 6:00 AM
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'.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP):

Utah state attorneys defending the state's anti-polygamy law argue that it should stay on the books because it protects women and children from abuse.

The Utah Attorney General is appealing a ruling striking down key provisions of the law in the case of Kody Brown and his four wives, stars of the reality TV show Sister Wives. The state says in newly filed court documents that monogamous marriage is an important social unit and court rulings dating back to 1878 have upheld laws against polygamy.

"The United States Constitution does not protect the practice of polygamy as a fundamental right," state attorney Parker Douglas wrote.

Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley countered Monday that the state's evidence of widespread abuse in polygamous communities is scant and the Browns show such unions can be healthy.

"As with monogamous families, the state has ample laws to prosecute individuals for abuse or other crimes," Turley said in an email to the Associated Press.

The state is requesting oral argument in the case and Turley is preparing his response. He has said the family is prepared to take the legal fight to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

Utah is appealing a 2013 ruling that struck down key provisions of the state's anti-polygamy law.

US District Judge Clark Waddoups decided that a provision of the state law forbidding cohabitation violated the polygamous Brown family's freedom of religion.

But Utah contends that some religious practices can be outlawed, and polygamy should be one of them. The state argues the practice can be associated with crimes like sexual assault, statutory rape and exploitation of government benefits.

The decision decriminalised polygamy, but bigamy - holding marriage licenses with multiple partners - is still illegal. If the ruling stands, Utah's law would be like most other states that prohibit people from having multiple marriage licenses. In most polygamous families, the man is legally married to one woman, but only "spiritually married" to the others.