Polygamist, Under Scrutiny in Utah, Plans Suit to Challenge Law
Kody Brown is a proud polygamist, and a relatively famous one. Now Mr. Brown, his four wives and 16 children and stepchildren are going to court to keep from being punished for it. The family is the focus of a reality TV show, “Sister Wives,” that first appeared in 2010. Law enforcement officials in the Browns’ home state, Utah, announced soon after the show began that the family was under investigation for violating the state law prohibiting polygamy.
On Wednesday, the Browns are expected to file a lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law.
The lawsuit is not demanding that states recognize polygamous marriage. Instead, the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses.
The connection with Lawrence v. Texas, a case that broadened legal rights for gay people, is sensitive for those who have sought the right of same-sex marriage. Opponents of such unions often refer to polygamy as one of the all-but-inevitable outcomes of allowing same-sex marriage. In his dissenting opinion in the Lawrence case, Justice Antonin Scalia cited a threat to state laws “based on moral choices” against “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.”
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in New York, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, made a similar comparison on his blog on Thursday in an essay criticizing the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage and the possible “next step,” which could be “another redefinition to justify multiple partners and infidelity.”