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Utah Supreme Court rules polygamy ban constitutional

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Utah [official website] has ruled that the state's ban on polygamy is constitutional [opinion, PDF] in a decision upholding the bigamy conviction of a former police officer. The court was asked to decide whether Utah's bigamy statute was constitutional as applied to Holm, a former police officer whose "spiritual" wife left him, telling authorities that he married her when he was 32 and she was 16, and that at the time he was already married to her sister. The majority found that Holm's conduct fell squarely within Utah's bigamy statute, and that "the protections enshrined in the federal constitution, as well as our state constitution, guaranteeing the free exercise of religion and conscience, due process, and freedom of association do not shield Holm's polygamous practices from state prosecution." Chief Justice Christine Durham dissented on the grounds that Utah's bigamy laws [text] are an unconstitutional intrusion into the "free exercise of religion and the privacy of the intimate, personal relationships between consenting adults."

Since the 2003 US Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas [opinion; Duke Law case backgrounder], some critics have speculated [CNS report] that a constitutional challenge to polygamy laws will soon be brought before the Court. In 1878, the Court in Reynolds v. US [opinion text] upheld Utah's bigamy statute as constitutional. In a challenge to the polygamy ban in federal court last year, US District Court Judge Ted Stewart Wednesday refused to strike down the ban [JURIST report], saying that the state has an interest in protecting monogamous marriage and that the current law did not violate religious and privacy rights of individuals. AP has more. The Salt Lake Tribune has local coverage.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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