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Federal Court Dismisses 'Sister Wives' Lawsuit, Restores Polygamy Ban

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on April 13, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal court dismissed the 'Sister Wives' and their husband's challenge to a Utah statute that bars polygamy, finding their claim moot for a few reasons. The court noted that the four wives and one husband sought relief for a possible future harm, not one happening now.

The family was unlikely to experience the harm for which it sought relief, according to CBS News, as Utah is not prosecuting the polygamists and the family now lives in Nevada. Let's take a look at the Tenth Circuit's decision.

Background Matters

"Sister Wives" was a reality television show on TLC about four wives "spiritually married" to one man in Utah -- legally speaking, only one of the four wives has a marriage certificate with Kody Brown. After they were on TV in 2010, Kody Brown and his wives were investigated by local police for polygamy and charged under a Utah law that is rarely enforced.

The family made a federal case out of this, arguing that the state was violating their constitutional rights by enforcing the polygamy statute. But this week a federal court today dismissed this, saying their claim was moot for lack of enforcement and a few other reasons. The family sought declaratory relief and a permanent injunction enjoining enforcement of the anti-polygamy statute against them.

But the state has since said that it does not enforce the ban on polygamy against consenting adults and it dropped criminal charges against the Browns, making the federal case a moot point. The Browns are unlikely to be prosecuted because the state has said it will not pursue charges and the family moved to Nevada.

Tricky Business

Obviously things get more complicated the more wives a family has. But that isn't necessarily bad, and Utah recognizes this. The state argued that it would not prosecute the sister wives and Brown criminally because they are consenting adults and Utal lets grown ups have as many spiritual wives as they want.

But Utah does keep the law on the books just in case things get creepy and criminal, or cultish, or all of the above. It has been used it in those situations, for example against Warren Jeffs of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, whose wives were very young.

In other words, Utah prosecutors want the option to charge people with criminal polygamy and don't want the statute struck.

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