Polygamous family asks federal court to overturn bigamy ban

As Brian Gabriel discussed in our Sept. 15 blog post, bigamy is very rare in Minnesota. As in virtually every jurisdiction, any marriage involving someone who has not gotten a divorce from a previous spouse is void in the state. Legally speaking, it is as if the bigamous marriage never happened.

The state of Utah has an especially strict law against polygamy. It prohibits marriages that involve multiple marriage certificates, but also cohabitation between consenting adults in a marriage-like relationship. In other words, a man living in Utah can be legally married to one woman and carry on an unofficial “marriage” with another woman in the same house and be guilty of bigamy. The law stems from the traditional practice of polygamy by members of the Mormon church, which prohibited the practice for its members in 1890.

Calling the law unfair, a polygamous family has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging it on Constitutional grounds. The family, which consists of one husband, three wives and 17 children, claims the law unfairly criminalizes their private sexual relationships. The family is part of the Mormon fundamentalist movement that continues to practice polygamy, believing it will bring them their reward in heaven. Oral arguments in the lawsuit were scheduled for Dec. 16.

The family moved from Utah to Nevada early this year after police began investigating them for polygamy. They have not been charged, but an assistant state attorney warned them to end their relationship as currently formed or face prosecution.