Utah’s anti-polygamy ruling actually a blow against free speech

“Sister Wives,” TLCA federal court yesterday tossed out a lower court ruling that blocked the enforcement of a Utah law that criminalized polygamous relationships. Therefore, the the anti-polygamy law is back in effect. The case was brought by the polygamous Brown family made semi-famous in the TLC reality series Sister Wives. (Update: Wording cleaned up a bit to make the ruling clearer. Apolgies!)

What actually happened is a little bit complicated. At no point during this whole process did a court rule that the state of Utah had to legally recognize polygamous marriages. That was not what this case is about at all. Rather, Utah has a law on the books outlawing married people from living with other partners and declaring themselves to be in a polygamous marriage. This was all completely separate from whether marriage licenses were even involved. This was a case about religious expression, freedom of association, and free speech, not government recognition or benefits.

But it was also a case where the Brown family was not actually being threatened with any sort of prosecution under this law. They were challenging the existence of the law as a violation of their liberties, but because the state of Utah was not threatening them with prosecution, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the family did not have standing under the law and could not sue.