SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s attorney general has decided to appeal a ruling that struck down parts of the state’s anti-polygamy law in what marked a significant victory for the family on the reality TV show “Sister Wives” and polygamous families living in Utah.
Advocacy groups for polygamy and individual liberties hailed U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups’ December ruling in favor of the TLC reality show’s Kody Brown and his four wives as a landmark decision that removed the threat of arrest for plural families in Utah.
The ruling was made final about a month ago, and Attorney General Sean Reyes filed paperwork Wednesday saying Utah will appeal to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal will be filed within two weeks, Reyes spokeswoman Missy Larsen said.
Reyes’ chief of staff, Parker Douglas, said it is office policy to defend any law that is challenged for constitutionality so long as there is a defense. He said they aren’t taking any political position, but rather seeking clarity so state residents know the reach of the state’s polygamy law.
“If the attorney general doesn’t defend a law, he’s just let the representatives of the people down by essentially vetoing it through non-defense,” said Douglas, who oversees cases that go through federal courts.
He said they will use office attorneys on the appeal, meaning there will be no outside cost.
Waddoups ruled a provision in Utah’s bigamy law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of religion.
Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley wasn’t immediate available for comment but previously said the family is prepared to take the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
In a blog post Wednesday, Turley argued that Utah should not challenge a ruling that reaffirmed freedom of religion and equal protection. “Utah is a state that was founded by citizens seeking those very rights against government abuse,” Turley wrote.
The Brown family filed their lawsuit in July 2011 and fled Utah for Las Vegas last year under the threat of prosecution.
Waddoups’ ruling decriminalized polygamy, but bigamy — holding marriage licenses with multiple partners — is still illegal. If the ruling stands, Utah’s law would be identical to most other states that prohibit people from having multiple marriage licenses. In most polygamous families in Utah, the man is legally married to one woman but only “spiritually married” to the others.
Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Mormon church, but the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.