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TLC stars Kody Brown and his four "wives"
Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

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U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Sister Wives case to legalize polygamy

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case designed to decriminalize polygamy, letting a lower court's anti-polygamy ruling stand.

"Sister Wives" reality TV star Kody Brown, who lives with four women as "wives," sued to challenge Utah's anti-bigamy law, and won in 2013.  An appellate court later overruled the victory, based on the technicality that Brown himself had not been arrested for breaking the law he opposes.

Brown argued that the anti-polygamy law violates his freedom of religion.  He, his four "wives," and their combined 18 children have been living in Las Vegas, and Brown says he is afraid to move back to Utah because of the law.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican, reasoned that polygamy is "inherently harmful" to both the women and children involved.  The state said the bigamy ban protects people from exploitation and abuse.  Reyes also argued that the law is useful to help the state prosecute other crimes, such as domestic violence, within polygamous groups.

Former polygamist Kristyn Decker, who now heads the anti-bigamy Sound Choices Coalition, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the state law should be kept on the books. 

"Research (especially that done by Canada's Supreme Court) proves that polygamy is inherently harmful to women, children and society as a whole," Decker explained. "We hope those who've been raised to believe they must live polygamy to attain their salvation, or because of family tradition, will soon awaken to that nonsense and find genuine freedom and happiness."

Prosecutions for polygamy are extremely rare in Utah, but fears that the state law could be challenged and overturned have increased since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, which constitutionalized same-sex “marriage.”

Meanwhile, polygamous groups across the state are organizing to fight House Bill 99, a new measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, which seeks to strengthen Utah's anti-bigamy statute. 

HB 99 would add that women can be charged with bigamy, and specifies that bigamy is committed if a person knowingly "purports to marry and cohabitates with" a married person.

Court documents record 30,000 polygamists in Utah, while the New York Daily News claims that 40,000 Mormons "either practice or believe in polygamy in Western states."  The mainstream Mormons originally taught polygamy, but under pressure when Utah was seeking to join the Union, gave up the doctrine in 1890.

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