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Should Polygamy Be Illegal?

Meet the Browns.

A Utah man and his four wives have decided to sue Utah over its anti-polygamy laws. This isn't just any family, though — they're the stars of Sister Wives, part of TLC's "cake and enormous families" lineup. Kody Brown, the family's patriarch, is technically married to only one woman, while his other three wives are merely unofficial "spiritual wives." Nevertheless, Utah law makes it a crime "if a married person purports to marry or cohabits with another person." This is the statute the family is hoping to overturn, as the Times explains:


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 ....

Making polygamous unions illegal, they argue, violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, as well as the free exercise, establishment, free speech and freedom of association clauses of the First Amendment.

“We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs,” Mr. Brown said in a statement provided by his lead attorney, Jonathan Turley, who is a law professor at George Washington University.

Because this family is famous, and because this case intertwines with the ongoing debates over the redefinition of marriage and the role of government, as well as the current fascination with Mormonism (the Browns belong to a "fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church"), you should be prepared for this to become something of a brief, national conversation. (Sorry, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Someone is probably going to ask you about this.) So let's start it right now.

Polygamy certainly has a stigma in the United States. Most people probably find it bizarre. But is there a compelling legal reason that it should be outlawed? As Brown argues, this is about the private lives of consenting adults. If that sounds familiar, it's pretty much the libertarian case for gay marriage. In his dissent in the Lawrence v. Texas case, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that the court's no-government-in-your-bedroom decision could lead to the acceptance of polygamy. Now it looks like his fears could be realized. But ... is that a bad thing? Personally, it would allow us to finally pursue our dream of marrying Minka Kelly and Natalie Portman and Heidi Klum at the same time, so we're all for it. Tell us what you think in the comments.

Polygamist, Under Scrutiny in Utah, Plans Suit to Challenge Law [NYT]
'Sister Wives' Family To Challenge Anti-Bigamy Law [NPR]

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Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images