Utah may appeal polygamy ruling

Posted at 6:27 PM, Dec 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-14 23:27:17-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawyers for the state of Utah are huddling to decide whether to appeal a federal judge's ruling, striking down part of Utah's polygamy ban as unconstitutional.

The decision late Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups essentially decriminalized polygamy in the state of Utah. It is a decision that has thrilled polygamists.

"We're ecstatic!" Joe Darger, a polygamist who has three wives, told FOX 13 News. "To be able to be open and live free, and just step out of the shadows of fear."

The ruling declared the portion of Utah's anti-polygamy law dealing with cohabitation unconstitutional. Utah has used it in the past to prosecute polygamists, by showing they were "purporting" to marry someone, regardless of whether the union was legal.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, challenging the state's ban on polygamy, claiming it violated their right to privacy and religious freedom. Judge Waddoups did not strike polygamy from the books, but preserved the bigamy statute to simply target someone who seeks multiple marriage licenses as a fraud.

On Saturday, the Utah Attorney General's Office had lawyers huddling and studying the ruling. Interim Utah Attorney General Brian Tarbet told FOX 13 News that a decision on an appeal could come as early as next week.

"I don't think we were surprised, given the court hearing back in January," he said of legal arguments made in the case. "But we'll take a look at it and go from there."

Utah gave up polygamy as a condition for statehood around 1890. The state also has a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to something between "one man and one woman."

Asked about the ruling on Saturday, Governor Gary Herbert told FOX 13 News it "certainly has ramifications for Utah."

"I'm always a little concerned when we have decisions that change public policy by the courts," the governor said. "I'd much rather see decisions on social issues come from our legislature, representing the will of the people."

Darger said the ruling certainly has implications for Utah's definition of marriage.

"For us, we simply wanted to be left alone and be free," he said. "And we think we finally have that."

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