On July 13, 2011, a Mormon man and four Mormon women cohabitating and engaged in a polyamorous relationship filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court of Utah against the State of Utah under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court to declare that Utah Code ...
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On July 13, 2011, a Mormon man and four Mormon women cohabitating and engaged in a polyamorous relationship filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court of Utah against the State of Utah under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court to declare that Utah Code Ann. §76-7-101 ("Utah Statute"), which makes it a crime when a person, "knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person was a husband or wife . . . purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person," violated their Constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, plaintiffs had recently starred on a television program called "Sister Wives," which documented their lifestyle and religious beliefs. They argued that they had been prosecuted under the Utah Statute solely because of their religious practices.
On May 31, 2012, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On December 13, 2013, District Court Judge Clark Waddoups granted plaintiffs' motion and declared the Utah Statute facially unconstitutional. 947 F.Supp.2d 1170 (2013)
. The court found that while the cohabitation prong of the statute was facially neutral, it was not operationally neutral and had been used, through a pattern of enforcement, to specifically target religious cohabitations. The court then found that because the cohabitation prong was not operationally neutral it was subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection clause, which it failed. The court further found that the cohabitation prong violated the Due Process clause under the right to privacy as articulated in Lawrence v. Texas
, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Finally, the court found that the cohabitation prong of the Statute was not articulated with a reasonable degree of clarity and was therefore void for vagueness.
In order to preserve the remainder of the Utah Statute, the court severed the phrase "or cohabits with another person" from the law. The court then narrowed the construction of the terms "marry" and "purports to marry," as a broad understanding of these terms would once again give rise to the constitutional dilemmas posed by the cohabitation prong. The court thus ordered a narrowing construction of the terms to "prohibit bigamy in the literal sense--the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage." The court did not address Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
On December 20, 2012, the judgment of the court on these issues was vacated because the case was mistakenly closed before hearing the plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Over the course of the next year and a half a hearing was scheduled. On August 27, 2014, District Court Judge Waddoups renewed his ruling that the cohabitation prong violated the constriction as outlined above. 2014 WL 4249865
. The Court further awarded plaintiffs their attorney's fees, costs, and expenses incurred under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
On September 24, 2014, the State appealed the district court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.Richard Jolly - 10/14/2014