Civil rights lawyer files suit challenging Utah ban on polygamy

SALT LAKE CITY — A civil rights attorney challenged Utah’s ban on polygamy Monday, citing a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas sodomy law.

The lawsuit says Salt Lake County clerks refused a marriage license to a couple because the man was already married to another woman, who had consented to the additional marriage.

In denying the marriage license, the county violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to practice their religion, attorney Brian Barnard said in the complaint.

The suit said polygamy is the plaintiffs’ “sincere and deeply held religious tenet.” The complaint does not say what religion the plaintiffs observe.

The suit argues that the Supreme Court protected defendants’ privacy in intimate matters when it struck down laws criminalizing gay sex last June, ruling that two gay men who were arrested after police entered their apartment and found them having sex were “entitled to respect for their private lives.”

Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff said the lawsuit goes far beyond the Supreme Court ruling.

“Any time you involve marriage, family, children — fundamental units of society — the state does have a compelling interest in what that is,” Shurtleff said. “It happens to be a felony crime here.”

Polygamy was part of the early beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was abandoned more than a century ago and outlawed as the territory sought statehood.

Some fundamentalist Mormons continue to believe in polygamy, and an estimated 30,000 in the West practice it.

Lawyers representing other polygamists have recently cited the Supreme Court ruling. Last month, the attorney for Tom Green, a convicted bigamist and child rapist, argued his client’s convictions should be thrown out in light of the case. The appeal of Rodney Holm — who was convicted of bigamy and unlawful sexual conduct with an underage girl — also cites the Texas case.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, USA
Jan. 12, 2004
Alexandria Sage
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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday January 13, 2004.
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