Attorney General’s Office disputes claims of polygamist who ‘married’ wife’s sister
A Utah polygamist ‘s request that the U.S. Supreme Court review his bigamy conviction should be denied because it seeks to “inflate a garden variety” local issue into a constitutional claim, the state said in a brief filed with the high court Friday.
Polygamist Rodney H. Holm’s petition to the court does not raise an issue of “widespread national importance” and the case, which involved a minor, is not suitable for attacking the law, Assistant Attorney General Laura B. Dupaix said in the filing.
Holm, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, claimed in his October petition that Utah’s bigamy statute is narrowly used to prosecute those who practice polygamy as a matter of religious faith.
While states have the right to regulate marriage, Holm said in his petition, laws that ban polygamy are outdated, given modern co-habitation customs and recent rulings on liberty and privacy rights.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office initially waived a response to Holm’s petition, citing costs involved and the unlikelihood the case will be heard. But the court’s clerk notified the state in November that the justices wanted to see its response before deciding whether to take the case.
Dupaix said any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court would have little bearing on laws in other states since Utah’s bigamy statute is, as Holm noted, “unique.”
She also said that Holm’s argument that the statute is used only to target polygamists is unfounded since one of two prior modern bigamy prosecutions in Utah had nothing to do with religion.
Holm, who was wed in a “spiritual” marriage to his wife’s sister, was convicted in August 2003 of one count of bigamy and two counts of unlawful sex with a minor.
He was 32 at the time of the 1998 ceremony; Ruth Stubbs, who became his third wife, was 16. Age was not a factor in the bigamy prosecution.
Holm, who was sentenced to a year in jail, appealed his convictions to the Utah Supreme Court, arguing in part that he could not be guilty of bigamy since he did not legally marry Stubbs.
The Utah court upheld Holm’s convictions, finding that constitutional protections don’t shield polygamists from prosecution. It also said relationships could be judged bigamous marriages even if they occur without state sanction.
Chief Justice Christine Durham wrote a spirited dissent to the bigamy conviction, arguing the state had adopted an “expansive conception” of marriage to aid criminal prosecutions. Durham said the statute is unconstitutional give the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which prohibits government intrusion in intimate relationships between consenting adults.
But Dupaix said Holm is asking the court to declare that “hypothetical consenting adults, who have yet to be prosecuted, have a due process liberty interest in polygamous relationships,” Dupaix argues. Holm “carefully omits” the circumstances – “an adult man entering into a polygamous relationship with an underage girl,” she said.
And the high court’s prohibition of polygamy in the 1879 Reynolds v. United States case has withstood cultural changes, she said, and continues to guide the state regulation of marriage and other religious practices.