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If Utah Can Go After Sister Wives‘ Polygamous Marriage, Can The State Target ‘Married’ Gays?

Never tell a gay activist that the fight for same-sex marriage is the equivalent as the fight for plural marriage; she’ll bite your mushroom head off. But in hearing about how Utah law enforcement are investigating the family of Kody Brown and his four wives — Robyn, Meri, Janelle and Christine, who star on TLC’s Sister Wives with their collective 16 children — because polygamy is banned there, it has me thinking: What if two gay men starred as a married couple in a reality show set in Utah?

Utah’s state constitution bans all recognition of same-sex marriage, thanks to 2004′s voter-approved amendment. That’s how Utah also banned polygamous marriages (though we needn’t really get into the whole Mormon Church aspect of it all).

But if the state doesn’t recognize plural marriage, what’s it matter if private citizens use the word “marriage” to refer to themselves and their sister wives? Privately passing off your relationship as something it’s not is not illegal. Neither is one man, legally married to one woman, having sex and raising children with three other women concurrently.

If Utah’s officials can go after unions that are polygamous in-name-only, and not recognized by the state because the constitution forbids it, then couldn’t they also go after same-sex “marriages,” which are also banned under the state constitution? That is, if two gay men appear on a reality show and call themselves “married,” are they at risk of a statewide investigation and possible prosecution?

And given that polygamy is illegal in all 50 states — despite some efforts in Utah to challenge the laws — anyone claiming to be in a plural marriage is, possibly, also at risk of crackdown. So what about states with constitutional bans to same-sex marriage? Thirty states have constitutional bans; a total of 42 states ban it either through state constitutions or state law.

If two gay men or women in Arkansas or Alaska or Georgia or Ohio or Virginia, then, pass themselves off as married, will the po-po be knocking on their door?

Calling yourselves “married” is not illegal. Trying to scam the government into providing benefits for multiple spouses? Yeah, that is.


Below, the cast appears on Joy Behar’s programming discussing the legality of their relationship. As Kody says, it’s a “lifestyle choice,” not a legal marriage (except to first wife Meri), and “it’s really tough to prosecute love on that issue, I think.” He married his other three wives in religious ceremonies.

And a Today segment, where they also discuss the legality:

By:           Ryan Tedder
On:           Sep 29, 2010
Tagged: , , , , ,

  • 15 Comments
    • Q
      Q

      I don’t want to seem a hater, but are they really wearing the same exact outfits on two different shows? They seem pretty fashionable, so you’d think one of the Sister Wives would’ve spoken up about it. Not saying it needs to be fancy, but at least a different top….

      Sep 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • UMB
      UMB

      What they are doing IS illegal in Utah: (76-7-101. Bigamy — Defense. (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.(2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.(3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry. Amended by Chapter 296, 1997 General Session)

      and 76-7-103. Adultery. (1) A married person commits adultery when he voluntarily has sexual intercourse with a person other than his spouse. (2) Adultery is a class B misdemeanor. Amended by Chapter 241, 1991 General Session. (This could probably be challenged under Lawrence V Texas)

      However, the language in the constitutional amendment applies strictly to bigamy, not same-sex couples.

      Depending on the difference between sodomy and fornication (Lawrence V Texas ruled laws prohibiting sodomy unconstitutional, however, it is unclear whether that includes laws prohibiting fornication, it probably does, but will need to be challenged in court), same-sex couples could be breaking Utah’s law: 76-7-104. Fornication. (1) Any unmarried person who shall voluntarily engage in sexual intercourse with another is guilty of fornication. (2) Fornication is a class B misdemeanor. Enacted by Chapter 196, 1973 General Session

      I’m so glad I don’t live in a Mormon state.

      Sep 29, 2010 at 3:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tommy
      Tommy

      I think you are trying to create a problem where there is none. The amendment to the constitution is a civil thing that they passed basically because other states allow gay marriage and to prevent those from being recognized in Utah. Sort of an exception to the clause in the Constitution that says you give faith and credit to the laws of other states.
      So unless Utah passes a criminal statute saying it’s illegal to call yourself married to someone of the same sex I don’t see the issue.

      Sep 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CJ
      CJ

      I’m probably one of the few people that think that polygamy should be legal. If two adults love each other and want to get married — or three or four adults, etc. Should we discriminate based on our religious or personal beliefs? Isn’t that the whole argument about gay marriage? They’re all adults. They’re all consenting. The big problem, however, relates to benefits that are usually afforded to spouses. This ranges from healthcare benefits (employer provided) to Social Security benefits. So, what do you do when the polygamist has 3 spouses and 20 kids? Does the employer have to pay the healthcare premium for that excessively large family? And, who gets the SS benefits when a spouses dies?

      Sep 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bobby in Seattle
      Bobby in Seattle

      Same-sex marriage is NOTHING liken to polygamy. Allowing same-sex couples changes nothing about the current marriage laws. One spouse. One beneficiary. Inheritance. Joint custody of children, property, assets.

      Polygamy would require a complete re-write of current marriage laws, as it would require the courts to determine inheritance rights, child custody rights, asset distribution, and divorce rights.

      I see no reasoning in comparing same-sex marriage to polygamy, as far as marriage law is concerned.

      Sep 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tru
      Tru

      Homosexuality and polygamy are not even in the same ballpark. Polygamy can be heterosexual or homosexual. In any event, polygamy is prime for breeding jealousy, hierarcy, and an erosion of intamacy. This is the case whether the “union” is sme-sex or opposite-sex.

      Sep 29, 2010 at 9:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark
      Mark

      I apologize when I seem extremely liberal on social issues. The only thing I would do is congratulate them. Most people have it hard finding one person in their life and make it work. I would walk up to him and shake his hand. The only issue I have is can they all be trusted? Most of us get paranoid wondering if our lover is cheating on us.

      Sep 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dallas David
      Dallas David

      There’s something to be said for getting the government completely out of marriage relationships.

      On the other hand, children related by blood and by adoption, and other adults with whom one has a contractual relationship with, followed by other relatives related by blood, all have relationships that should trump government interference, aside from protection for abusive situations.

      I have no problem with heterosexual polygamy. That just means more guys for me!

      Sep 30, 2010 at 1:52 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tommy
      Tommy

      Polygamy is illegal not because of religious beliefs, but because it harms the multiple spouses. You just can’t give the same amount of affection love and caring to 10 spouses that you can to 1.
      Also, it’s sexist because you always hear about a guy having 10 wives. You never hear about a woman having 10 husbands, do you?
      So the law is also for the protection of women.

      Sep 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • obiwan
      obiwan

      Surprisingly some of the allies for gay marriage are polygamists in Utah. I don’t agree with polygamy, but breaking up families to enforce laws against polygamy are not always a good thing. There are familial love and bonds in these alternative families.

      Sep 30, 2010 at 9:18 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • toddinsf
      toddinsf

      “Polygamy is illegal not because of religious beliefs, but because it harms the multiple spouses. You just can’t give the same amount of affection love and caring to 10 spouses that you can to 1.”

      Well, couldn’t we just as easily say ‘having multiple children is illegal… because it harms the multiple children. You just can’t give the same amount of affection, love, & caring to 2 children as you can to 1′? I don’t think we’re likely to adopt such a policy here, nor do I think most people would see it that way. So if we accept that love for one child is undiluted simply because you have (an)other(s), why is it so hard to believe the same could be true for spousal love?

      As for protecting the women involved, wouldn’t they be better protected in those cases where coercion is involved if they could freely approach the authorities? That’s difficult to do when the law considers them criminals.

      Sep 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ROCKI Thomas
      ROCKI Thomas

      This family has more morals than most families in america. He doesnt have premarital sex. He is a devoted husband and father. And they all love eachother.

      How many monogamous religious people get divorced each year?

      Atleast they have religion and morals, and are non-judgemental of others lifestyles, and encourage their children to be happy.

      Most people in this world cheat, lie, and will step on anyone to get on top of the financial world.

      “Judge NOT, that you be not judged” in Matt 7:1

      Oct 11, 2010 at 1:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ROCKI
      ROCKI

      @Q: they probably did the interviews on the same day

      Oct 11, 2010 at 1:43 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sana
      Sana

      Polygymy is NOT the same as gay marriage. Polygymy is about 1 man having and controlling his own cult in which he is the leader. Their rights are not being violated, they are trying to undermining the rights that gay and interracial couples have been fighting for decades to have. Polygymy is not about love. Don’t agree? They were asked in an interview what if they introduced another MAN into the marriage? kody said that it is not an option. So it’s clearly not about love. This show makes me sick. It’s wrong that their trying to convey themselves as misunderstood and oppressed. They need to be banned.

      Nov 18, 2011 at 5:35 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Me
      Me

      @Q: they did the interviews on the same day

      May 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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