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Federal judge allows challenge to Utah anti-polygamy law

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the Browns, a publicly polygamist family living in Utah, have standing to bring a suit challenging Utah's anti-bigamy law against Utah County Attorney General Jeffrey Buhman. The court dismissed challenges brought against Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for lack of standing, saying there was insufficient evidence that the state officials had any intention to prosecute the family under these laws. The challenges against Buhman were allowed to stand, however, because there was sufficient evidence that complaints made to county officers had led to an investigation, and there was reason to infer that the county might pursue prosecution under the law. The family challenged the law [JURIST report] in July as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, saying they are not pursuing legal recognition of their marriage, but simply want to end prosecutions against them and other families who choose this lifestyle.

Kody Brown and his four wives, the plaintiffs in this case, are stars of TLC's reality show Sister Wives [official website]. A police investigation [Utah News report] against them has been ongoing since September 2010, when the show was first announced and premiered. Utah's Anti-Bigamy Statute [statute, text] has been on the books since 1862. While polygamy is now recognized in most of Africa and the Middle East, it is still illegal in most of North and South America, Europe and China. In 2005, the US District Court for the District of Utah rejected a similar lawsuit [JURIST report] brought against Utah's Anti-Bigamy Statute, reaffirming the 1879 US Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States [text], which upheld a conviction under an anti-polygamy law as constitutional.

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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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