Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Brown Day in Court

The Browns, stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives,” and their lawsuit for the polyamorous freedom of association are back in the news. The case was in court on Friday. Jennifer Dobner of the Associated Press had an update.

A polygamous family made famous on a reality television show is asking a Utah federal judge not to block their challenge of the state's bigamy law.

Kody Brown and wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn filed a lawsuit in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court in July. Oral arguments in the case are set for Friday before U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups.

Judge Waddoups should side with relationship rights for consenting adults.

Under Utah law, people are guilty of bigamy if they have multiple marriage licenses, or if they cohabitate with another consenting adult in a marriage-like relationship.


State prosecutors contend the Browns — who haven't been charged — aren't facing any real harm because the state has rarely prosecuted individuals for bigamy without also prosecuting for other crimes, such as underage marriages, sexual abuse or welfare fraud.

Unjust laws should not be left on the books for prosecutors and judges to use against people who aren’t harming anyone. Even if the laws aren't actively applied often, their presence has a chilling effect. Dobner found two examples of how, contrary to what is claimed by Utah authorities, the law was used…

Bob Foster had three wives when he was arrested and charged with bigamy in 1974. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months in Jail. He was released after 21 days and ordered to serve five years of probation. A judge also said Foster was not allowed to live with his families. Foster died from cancer in 2008. He was still married to all three women.

None of them were Kardashians.

Mark Easterday was arrested and charged with bigamy in 1999. Authorities were alerted to Easterday's multiple marriage by his first wife as part of a custody battle during their divorce. He ultimately pleaded no contest to adultery because the divorce was finalized before the bigamy case went to trial. Easterday was sentenced to probation.

Dobner had more in another report.

While all states outlaw bigamy, some like Utah have laws that both prohibit having more than one marriage license at a time and also ban adults from living together and having a sexual relationship.

The latter provision could include same-sex couples, unmarried heterosexual couples and those, like the Browns, who do not have licenses but have created within their homes a marriage-like relationship.

Turley, a noted constitutional expert, argued that, under previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, such as one that struck down Texas' sodomy law, private intimate relationships between consenting adults are constitutionally protected

Turley is right.

Some scholars say polygamy should be decriminalized not just on First Amendment or privacy grounds, but because it would help society better regulate families.

Victims of abuse, which some believe is inherent in plural communities, might feel more comfortable seeking assistance if they don't also fear prosecution, Lyndon State College anthropology professor Janet Bennion said.

"Laws that criminalize polygamy isolate and alienate ... it's not polygamy per se that leads to abuse, that can be present in monogamy," Bennion said. "We really should allow more freedoms for any kind of alternative marriage.

"If we threaten polygamy, other forms will be threatened, such as gay and lesbian marriage," she said.

Thank you, Ms. Bennion. That’s exactly right. Abuse will decrease if people aren’t forced to hide in the shadows. An adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with any consenting adults.
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