SALT LAKE CITY (AP):
Kody Brown and his four wives just want to live like any other family - free from the threat of being tossed in prison.
But in Utah, just claiming to have more than one wife is a third-degree felony punishable by a sentence of up to five years.
The polygamous family, stars of the TLC show Sister Wives, has sued Utah and the county they fled from, hoping to persuade a federal judge to overturn the state's bigamy law as unconstitutional.
The case could potentially decriminalise a way of life for tens of thousands of Mormon fundamentalists practising polygamy, most of whom live in Utah.
The state, meanwhile, has publicly said it won't prosecute consenting adult polygamists unless there are other crimes involved, but insists the law doesn't overreach.
"It is not protected under religious freedom because states have the right to regulate marriage," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
United States (US) district judge Clark Waddoups, said it appeared as if the state policy and the ensuing declaration by Utah County was "simply a ruse to avoid having the issue reviewed".
"What's the policy reason behind this ... that would give assurances that similar prosecutions will not be pursued in the future?" Waddoups asked. "What about the next couple?"
Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen, arguing on behalf of Utah County, said there is none, but noted there are at least 30,000 practising polygamists in Utah.
"They are not being prosecuted," Jensen said. "Utah County does not want to prosecute people for the practice of polygamy, period."
Jensen could not say the threat of prosecution of other polygamous families had been entirely removed, but reiterated state policy.
The Browns' attorney, Washington, DC, constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, argued Brown and his wives - Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn - remainvictims and continue to live under the stigma of being considered felons.
They fled Utah last year and are now living in Nevada.
While all states outlaw bigamy, some like Utah have laws that not only prohibit citizens from having more than one marriage licence, but also make it illegal to even purport to be married to multiple partners. Utah's bigamy statute even bans unmarried adult couples from living together and having a sexual relationship.
Utah's statehood was granted in the 1890s under the condition that plural marriage - which was then openly practised by members of The Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-day Saints - would be banned in the state constitution.
The practice has been illegal under federal law in the US since the 1860s.
The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren and say they practise polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.
And like most polygamists, Brown only has a valid marriage licence with his first wife, Meri. He married the other three in religious ceremonies. They consider themselves "spiritually married".