Sister wives and their husband Kody Brown of Utah, late of Las Vegas, have changed the law in Utah.
To be more exact U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups changed the law in an action brought by the Brown clan through their lawyer, Jonathan Turley, who is based in Washington, D.C. Given the demographics and history of Utah’s settlement, it might seem counter-intuitive and ironic, but prior to Judge Waddoups most recent decision, Utah had one of the most stringent anti-polygamy laws among the 50 states.
In most states, including Utah, the criminal codes prohibit a person from having more than one marriage license. Obviously, to obtain more than one marriage license in said states would involve some form of fraud on the state, as well as the execution of fraudulent documents. In Utah the powers that be – and one can assume the influence of an excessively cautious Mormon Church which in another time and culture had approved and encouraged the practice of polygamy- drafted the criminal code. This code made it a crime if one were to purport to be to married to multiple partners, or to live with multiple partners while holding one’s self out as being married to multiple partners.
As the language implementing most laws is the cumbersome tool employed to shave fine distinctions, the result was not entirely predictable. Just because there’s a law on the books doesn’t mean the authorities will track down the culprit in each and every instance and haul him or her before a judge.
The problem for Kody Brown and the sister wives was the excess of bounty. They’re reality TV stars and their reality show is popular and broadcast everywhere. The authorities couldn’t look the other way as every episode of Sister Wives was an alleged crime under the strict Utah law. Living with one another, purporting to be married, holding themselves out to the American viewing public as being married, was and is the show, itself. Kody Brown and the sister wives couldn’t help but draw the attention of the Utah authorities. The facts were clear. Brown and the sister wives were in violation of the Utah criminal code and all but invited prosecution.
The broadcast company faced a dilemma. If Kody and the sister wives were charged and prosecuted, what would be the impact on ratings with the criminal court angle? Was the public up for another trip through the halls of justice? Court based programs, real, fictive or downright ersatz, are extraordinarily popular. Kody on the stand might draw a 3-share in the 18 to 49 age group demographic, but the show was solid. Viewers want to peek into the lives of several women and one man, complete with the dramatic tension of too many cooks in the kitchen or the laundry room, all discussing the benefits and drawbacks of being a sister wife. People want to know what this alternative lifestyle is about, the very nuts and bolts of several women sharing one man in connubial relations.
The TV people thought maybe the criminal angle wouldn’t pan out after all and why should the suits fix something that isn’t broke? The other more relevant consideration came from Kody Brown and the sister wives, themselves. They weren’t going to wait around to be nabbed, charged , prosecuted and sentenced for their alternative lifestyle. TV is one thing, but iron gates are another.
Ever the man in charge, Kody packed up the sister wives and moved to Las Vegas where the viewing public would have to settle for Kody and the sister wives sightseeing the strip.
Enter lawyer Tourley from WashingtonD.C. Tourley believed that Utah’s excess of caution, expressed in a highly restrictive law concerning the criminal offense of polygamy, had impelled the Utah legislature to go one or two steps too far. He argued that the restriction of one’s freedom of speech, even if the content of that speech is to purport to be married to multiple partners, or to hold oneself out as being so, in the absence of the fraud inherent in making application for and the receipt of multiple marriage licenses, was unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.
Federal Judge Clark Waddoup agreed and on behalf of the sister wives and their husband changed the Utah law, knocking down those portions of the law that restrict a person’s right to free speech – the right to say “I’m married to four women and with several children between us, we all live together, married and as a family.”
By Michael Hogan