Polygamy

Cato Institute Supports Sister Wives Family's Challenge to Utah Polygamy Law

"Spiritual unions" of more than two people should not result in criminal sanctions, say Cato scholars.

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Sister Wives/Facebook

The Cato Institute is rallying behind a challenge to Utah's anti-bigamy law from the family that stars in TLC reality series Sister Wives. In an amicus brief filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the think tank agreed with the polygamous Brown family that prohibiting people not just from legal recognition of plural marriage but from identifying so socially and religiously is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

"In Utah, one can promise love to someone in addition to one's spouse," the brief states. "One can share one's home and create a family with someone in addition to one's spouse. But one cannot, under penalty of criminal law, call this other person one's wife or husband, or otherwise express that one is religiously or spiritually married to more than one person. This happens because Utah defines criminal bigamy… to include saying 'I do' in a wedding ceremony, or saying 'that's my wife' about someone one lives with, even when everyone knows that the marriage is not legally recognized."

While Sister Wives star Kodi Brown is only legally married to one woman, he claims a "spiritual union" with three others. Together, Kodi and the "sister wives"—Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn—have 17 children.

"Because the potential sentences are quite severe (five years for each of the women, and up to 20 years for Kodi), the Browns took preemptive action, filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah's law," explains Ilya Shapiro, a Cato senior fellow in constitutional studies and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, in a post on the Cato blog.

A U.S. district court agreed with the Browns, holding that because the law criminalizes "spiritual cohabitation," i.e. religious recognition of plural marriages without seeking state-sanctioning, Utah's anti-bigamy law was "facially unconstitutional," violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The state is now appealing. The court will hear arguments in the case, Brown v. Buhman, this fall.

Cato's amicus brief, filed together with First Amendment scholar and Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh, urges the appeals court to uphold the district court's ruling. Utah's bigamy statute "criminalizes speech that creates intimate associations between consenting adults, and communicates freely chosen religious and moral values," it states. "The bigamy statute thus restricts protected and valuable speech because of its content, and is therefore presumptively unconstitutional."

"Telling people you're married, even if it isn't legally true, isn't the kind of harmful speech any government has the right to censor, let alone criminalize," adds Shapiro. Make no mistake, this case "involves speech—not conduct—that the state doesn't like."

Whether governments should legally recognize plural marriage is irrelvent here. The Browns aren't seeking state recognition, merely the right to call themselves a married quintuple without criminal prosecution and punishment.

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  1. Someone should build a WALL between church and state. Looking at you, #TRUMP2016

  2. OMG. How many wedding cakes am I going to be forced to bake for these people? It’s got to be, like, quadruple the regular amount!

    1. You know who else whined about cake?…

      1. The UN inspectors Saddam kicked out of Iraq?

      2. Michelle Obama?

        No, wait — I think that was *cheeseburger*.

      3. Richard Harris and Donna Summer?

  3. “Our little brownie is the size of a banana”

    So Cato is supporting practitioners of fetal cannibalism, eh?

  4. Get the government out of the marriage business and this stops being a problem. Too bad so many, like Reason, sided with the special rights crowds on this issue.

    1. Crazy Reason also sided with the special rights crowds on things like whether blacks should be allowed in expensive white public schools rather than arguing that the government should get out of that business.

      1. You got to be a real asshole to conflate those two issues. I mean just a straight-up, oblivious piece of shit.

        1. If the government provides something it should provide it equally.

          You can say ‘the government shouldn’t provide schools.’ But if it provides them, they should let blacks go to them too.

          And you can say ‘the government shouldn’t provide a special legal status to marriage.’ But if it does it should apply that equally as well.

          1. If the government provides something it should provide it equally.

            So if slavery of some is enforced, slavery of all must be the direction to go. And I disagree with you, comrade.

            1. So you think equality before the law is a bad thing and that you’ve shown that with your analogy?

              1. I also like how conflating two equal protection cases is beyond the pale but conflating marriage recognition with slavery is all good.

            2. If everyone is a slave, is anyone a slave?

              Bad example. Slavery inherently violates fundamental human rights in a way that government recognition of marriages doesn’t. A better example might be something about welfare. I’m against big welfare programs. But I wouldn’t support a law that denied welfare to all people of a particular race or sex, even though that would reduce government redistribution.
              I have to agree with Bo here. It’s an equal protection issue. Marriage was a special right before. Now it’s less special. And if cases like this succeed, it will be even less of a special right. Which is good.

              1. Slavery inherently violates fundamental human rights in a way that government recognition of marriages doesn’t

                Yes, you are right. They are both violations, just different.

          2. Marriage has never been restricted to anybody in America on the basis of “sexual orientation,” not ever.

            Ten years ago I could not marry my roommate to get on his employer-provided health plan. The fact that we are both “heterosexuals” made no difference at all.

            “Homosexuals” have always had the exact same right as “heterosexuals” to get married, anywhere in America, for as long as marriage has been a civil institution.

            Comparing your little pet issue to black children being violently denied basic education makes you a sick, stupid fucker.

            1. They are both equal protection issues.

              “”Homosexuals” have always had the exact same right as “heterosexuals” to get married, anywhere in America”

              Good grief, still with this?

              1. Did you think a wave from Anthony Kennedy’s Magic Happy Gavel was going to cause tens of millions of people to stop thinking critically and forget the last 2,000 years of social and legal reality? That might take longer than six weeks, sweetie.

              2. They are both equal protection issues.

                No Eisenstein, both are liberty issues. Licenses are anti-liberty, especially relationship licenses.

                1. But it’s really not a relationship license. It’s really a bad term for what a “marriage license” actually is today. Except in Utah apparently, no one is going to come arrest you for failing to register your marriage or whatever you call your relationship.

                  And equal protection issues and liberty issues are not mutually exclusive. In fact they often coincide and sometimes conflict.

            2. Marriage has never been restricted to anybody in America on the basis of “sexual orientation,” not ever.

              That’s fucking idiotic, even if it’s true. You know damn well what was at issue. Which is why many people refer to it as “same sex marriage”.

              1. Right, we know, we know…the truth is idiotic, and family civil law has a damned thing to do with “love.”

                No, actually you’re just another fucking moron who thinks that everybody in the world should re-arrange their beliefs, behavior and language to celebrate your special feelings. Try just a little sip of reality: Homosexuality is a public-health hazard, and the idea of two men getting married to each other is and will always be ridiculous.

                1. OK, so you are an asshole and a bigot and not worth addressing. You have no idea what my thoughts and feelings are. Sorry to bother you, carry on.

        2. It is in his title that he displays proudly.

      2. Crazy Reason also sided with the special rights crowds on things like whether blacks should be allowed in expensive white public schools rather than arguing that the government should get out of that business.

        I think Reason has argued that they should be out of the public school business.

      3. Crazy Reason also sided with the special rights crowds on things like whether blacks should be allowed in expensive white public schools rather than arguing that the government should get out of that business.

        I think Reason has argued that they should be out of the public school business.

  5. Now, I happen to have no problem with this. I agree that people should be able to make their own arrangements. I even think that State recognition of ploygamy would be a tiny issue, given modern divorce laws.

    But, please notice, the anti-Gay-marriage people said that polygamy would be next. And the mainstream Liberal Intelligencia, that Chattering Classes laughed at them….

    1. “the anti-Gay-marriage people said that polygamy would be next”

      They also said man-dog marriage would be next…

      1. That’s next-next, to be followed closely thereafter by man-robot marriage.

        1. I, for one, welcome my robot wife overlord.

        2. No it isn’t.

          Man – dog and Man – Child marriage are not next as they are categorically different from gay and plural marriage specifically in that neither a dog or a child can consent to the marriage.

          The plural marriage argument has always been accurate. There is no way to grant that gay marriage must be allowed on equal protection grounds without also allowing plural (and incestuous marriage between adults) but marriage to dogs and children are utterly separate.

          1. “There is no way to grant that gay marriage must be allowed on equal protection grounds without also allowing plural”

            I’d like to see plural marriage recognized (if marriage is going to be recognized at all), but of course you can distinguish the two. Gender gets a different level of scrutiny than number.

          2. in that neither a dog or a child can consent to the marriage.

            How can you tell if a dog consents to sex?

            He didn’t turn around and chew your penis off…

          3. in that neither a dog or a child can consent to the marriage.

            How can you tell if a dog consents to sex?

            He didn’t turn around and chew your penis off…

      2. Your mom will find somebody eventually, kiddo. Don’t get bitter.

        1. Somebody certainly seems bitter here…

          1. Oh certainly.

    2. Yeah, I realized this when I was 14. Society progress is a whole bunch of “We want this thing and you should give it to us because of X.” “But if we give you the thing because of X then this other thing needs to be given because of X!” “We don’t like the other thing so we are going to ignore it and X only justifies the thing we want and your arguing in bad faith if you suggest otherwise!” one generation later “We want this other thing because of X.”.

      Just look at the arguments people used to have about religious freedom. The opponents said that if we continued down the logic being presented we would end up with a Catholic president. Several generations later we did. People who wanted to abolish slavery said that their arguments would never lead to blacks voting. Several generations later it did.

      I’m for polygamy and honestly I think its silly that you can kill and animal but you can’t screw it (I have not interest in participating in either). So it doesn’t much matter to me the road we’re heading down. I just don’t like the blatant unwillingness of some to actually consider what their arguments mean.

    3. the anti-Gay-marriage people said that polygamy would be next.

      And I said, “damn right, that’s as it should be”.

      I think there are pretty solid reasons why dogs can’t enter into contracts, though.

  6. An ‘e’ fell out of ‘irrelevant’, hon.

    A man marrying a toad is more understandable than the state magically assigning itself power to violently impose its will on consenting adults arranging their attraction in a fashion conducive to their existences.

    I sort of wish my mom had been an alien and not birthed me here.

  7. May 3 straight males form a bond of marriage amongst themselves? Or must they be gay? (Or at least say they are gay?)

    May a mother form a bond of marriage with two of her daughters, or just one? May they be straight, or must they declare themselves Sapphic? Must all three be Sapphic, or just two?

    1. As the article is very clear about, this case is about the speech involved in any set of people *saying* they are married, and of course that applies regardless of orientation. Do you think any set you’re talking about should be criminally punished for saying they consider themselves married? Because that’s what this case is about.

      1. *** scratches chin ***

        Married to the mob?

      2. “Do you think any set you’re talking about should be criminally punished for saying they consider themselves married?”

        Not at all. I’m in favor of freedom and liberty for everyone.

        1. The “says they are married” thing is applicable to all common law marriage states. I don’t know how many are left these days, but it used to be most of them. If you ever declared yourself to be married in public, you were married under common law.

          The last time it was of interest to me was before the millennium, but at that time simply cohabitating for more than 6 months was enough to be declared married under common law in Georgia. And putting down “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” on a hotel registry was enough to declare yourself married in public.

    2. Why not.

      As long as all 6 are consenting to the agreements who is harmed?

  8. Make no mistake, this case “involves speech?not conduct?that the state doesn’t like.”

    Much of the conservative objection to teh gayz involves the use of the *word* “marriage” to describe their state-sanctioned unions. Call it *anything* but our sacred term for one-man-one-woman, and … less problem.

  9. The broken mentality of a millennial with zero cognitive ability…. http://theconcourse.deadspin.c…..1727787188

    Evidently in modern goddamn America if you are three weeks past the age 18 you are barely legal and therefore anyone fucking you is an automatic predator. And may the gods and goddesses of super sensitive universities toss your miserable shitty soul in the sex-freak brink if perchance the pussy you fucked was only 11 while you were 18 seven years BEFORE you fucked her.

    The fucking math here mashed into some wicked conflagration of retardation is like taking a shower in pure benzocaine.

    1. Yeah, 25 and 18 might be a big gap (though not predatory) if the rapper had gone the normal route of college then white collar job, but he probably still hangs with the same people and does the same things as he did when he was 18.
      Plus who the hell thinks she’s getting the raw end of the deal here? She’s the girlfriend of a rich rapper. She’s going to get pampered, experience a lifestyle most of us can only dream of, and make out like a bandit with all the gifts he gives her even if they don’t progress all the way to putting a ring on it. We could all be so lucky as to get exploited this way.

      1. I’m also comfortable with 99 and 18 being a massive gap but not wolfish. This addled bitch is throwing the term ‘predatory’ around like mayonnaise and she’s fucking serious and super unfunny.

        1. I don’t know Agile, I just read this as ‘guys who have sex with 17 year olds and then write songs bragging about it are a bit creepy.’

      2. How about 32 and 24? Same age gap by that’s how old my wife and I were when we first met

        1. Both post college and in the workforce. Age gap is really a misnomer because what’s really the problem is experience gap. What period of your life your in is more important than the number of years you’ve been on the earth.

          1. Is that a ‘reasonable woman in the street’ analysis there?

            If so, I’m gonna find that a really useful way of dealing with some … uhm … objections I’ve heard.

            1. Go ahead an use it. If people try to object just point out they probably don’t think it’s predatory if a 60 and 70 year old get together.

              1. How about a 53 and 28 … just askin’ for a friend, of course.

      3. It’s ridiculous to call something “predatory” simply based on age difference if you know nothing about how the relationship developed. Unless the younger person is very young, then you can probably make the call.

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