Why Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Laws Need to be Abolished

I’m sure anyone who has interest in plural relationships has by now heard that Kody Brown and his wives are suing the State of Utah, challenging Utah’s 121-year old anti-polygamy law with their attorney Jonathan Turley, who is well-known for his championing of issues regarding separation of church and state and environmental issues.

I’ll preface this post with the statement that not all polygamy is good; the Jeffs, Allred’s, Kingston’s and their kind use plural relationships to further their own twisted personal agendas in closed environments, out of the public eye and for a long time, away from prosecution.

But there are those that have healthy, functioning polygamist marriages, and from what we’ve seen of the Brown’s (and the fact that the Utah County investigators haven’t so far uncovered anything they can prosecute them with) have a very functional, happy relationship and their kids are well-adjusted and loved and cared for, also. At least they don’t seem to be any less functional than most monogamous, one-man-one-woman relationships and marriages.

There are also those that have functional and healthy polyamorous and other open relationships.

Jonathan Turley made a very good statement about the lawsuit:

“What they are asking for is the right to structure their own lives, their own family, according to their faith and their beliefs… There’s a host of constitutional problems when a state goes into a family and says: ‘Your family has to look like ours. You have to live your life according to our values and our morals.’”

Turley says the focus of the lawsuit is about privacy, not polygamy, citing the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas that overturned the sodomy laws in that state, holding that private, intimate relationships between consenting adults is constitutionally protected.

Which really is the bigger issue here. The Browns, like so many polyamorists, are not looking for legal recognition of marriages to several people at the same time, they just don’t want to be prosecuted (and persecuted) for living their life differently than others. They don’t want to live with the threat of being fired from jobs, having their children taken away from them or being hit with misdemeanor or felony charges.

In short Turley wants to wipe antiquated and outdated laws from the books regarding adultery, fornication and cohabitation. So far no one is challenging the bigamy law in regards to being legally married to multiple people simultaneously, they are simply championing the ability for consenting adults to live together in whatever configuration works best for them and their families.

This could be a man who’s married to one woman and another woman lives with them as a partner of one or both of them. It could be a woman who is married to one man but has a boyfriend who lives with them also. It could be three unmarried adults living together all having a romantic relationship with each other or with just one other member. It could be a married couple who also has outside relationships with people who don’t live with them.

These are the ones flying under the radar, living in fear that some do-gooder neighbor or official at their kid’s school will call the authorities and have them investigated.

Here are some clips from Utah Code that Illustrates why:

76-5-403. Sodomy — Forcible sodomy.

(1) A person commits sodomy when the actor engages in any sexual act with a person who is 14 years of age or older involving the genitals of one person and mouth or anus of another person, regardless of the sex of either participant.
(2) A person commits forcible sodomy when the actor commits sodomy upon another without the other’s consent.
(3) Sodomy is a class B misdemeanor.
(4) Forcible sodomy is a felony of the first degree

Amended by Chapter 339, 2007 General Session

Utah Code 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.

Amended by Chapter 296, 1997 General Session

Utah Code 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

Utah Code 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

You can see that these are not really old laws. They have all been enacted or amended in the past 40 years.

In Utah a felony of the third degree is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in prison, as well as the accompanying fines for each.

Of course the State would say what they said about the Browns: Assistant Utah Attorney General Jerold S. Jensen stated:

“…there have been no arrests or prosecutions for the mere practice of polygamy in Utah in over 50 years.”

But, the laws are still on the books and if someone got a bug up their ass they could prosecute, because in affect, in the State of Utah, any relationship other than a married, one-man-one-woman married relationship is illegal. Technically, if your single you can’t legally have sex in Utah under 76-7-104 above.

Now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 57% of Utahns over the age of 15 are married. So potentially, unless some have decided to be celibate, 43% of Utahns over the age of 15 could be prosecuted under Utah’s fornication law. BAM! 6 months in jail or a $250 fine or both. A quick way to raise $209 million dollars for the State, eh?

I know legislators, judges, police officers, mayors, and governors love their blowjobs, also, so you would think they would repeal the consensual sodomy part of the law. They can say over and over that they haven’t prosecuted anyone in over X-amount of years for sodomy, however as you see above the law was amended in 2007 and they had the chance then to repeal consensual sodomy, but they didn’t.

Lets look at some scenarios outside of polygamy that these laws affect, shall we?

  • Two college kids hooking-up: 6 months in prison.
  • Two divorcees hooking-up: 6 months in prison.
  • A husband or wife that is cheating: 6 months in prison for the cheater and potentially another 6 months for the lover (It is estimated that cheating occurs in as many as 6 out of 10 marriages also, discovered or not).
  • Unmarried partners that rent or buy a house together: 6 months in prison.
  • A married couple that have a threesome with another woman or man: 6 months in prison (It is estimated that as many as 20% of married couples have had at least one threesome).
  • A polyamorous V consisting of a husband and wife and the wife’s unmarried partner: 5 years in prison for the husband or wife, or both, and a 6 month prison sentence for their unmarried partner.

It wouldn’t be hard to uncover many of these situations, either. An unmarried man and woman signing a lease agreement together for an apartment could open themselves up to prosecution.

An unmarried couple applying for a home loan together could open themselves up to prosecution.

Under the Salt Lake City government workers new domestic partner benefits program, domestic partners could be tracked by applying for benefits and prosecuted if someday a mayor, governor or state prosecutor that is not as friendly to gays were to take office.

The State could pass a law stating that all these scenarios between unmarried adults be reported to the State for investigation using all the laws above from Title 76 of the Utah Code as reasonable cause.

Sure it seems absurd, but when the State started requiring bars, clubs and the liquor stores to scan the QR and bar codes on drivers licenses many in the Legislature thought it would be a good way to keep a database of all the drinkers in the state. That way they would know who bought what kind of alcoholic beverages, how much and how they purchased them and what bars they went to. The fact that this is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment didn’t seem to bother Utah State legislators in the least bit. That part of the bill was ultimately removed, but still, it was introduced into the legislative session and had the support of a number of lawmakers. So it’s not far-fetched or out of the question.

People seem to have a creepy interest in what others are doing that doesn’t affect them, all the while insisting on their personal right to privacy.

As long as these absurd and outdated laws are on the books it’s a possibility that any relationship outside of a legally married one could be prosecuted. What assurance do we have that we won’t get prosecuted for having sex with someone and not being married to them? The DA’s statement that “We haven’t prosecuted anyone in over 50 years.”? We have their word on it? Not good enough for me.

And Utah isn’t the only state that has outdated, irrelevant laws on their books. Nearly every state in the U.S. has one or more of the preceding laws still lingering around.

All anyone wants, be they monogamous, polyamorous, polygamist, etc., is to simply be able to live their lives the way they want, love who they want, and as long as no laws regarding harming others (welfare fraud, incest, child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, tax evasion, etc.) are being broken than people should be left to live as they see fit.

After all, isn’t that why those wacky Pilgrims came to America? To live their own lives and not be persecuted for being different from others in England and Europe? Yeah, I thought so, too.

  • SweetGeekGoddess

    This is very well said!  Ironic that Utah was founded by religious fanatics that were fleeing to create Zion where they could practice their version of marriage i.e., polygamy. Now, the decedents of this whacked cult are persecuting folks for the same reasons their fore fathers came west.  

    As main stream Mormon doctrine still sanctions polygamy it is my opinion that the reason the LDS church is so adamant about one-man, one-woman is they are afraid it will negatively impact the PR they have worked so hard to maintain.  After all if the marriage laws were appealed to allow for same sex marriage, polyamory and polygamy, then the LDS church would have to admit that the only reason they don’t permit polygamy currently is that it is against the law of the land.  It would be pretty hard for them to promote and spin they are just run-of-the-mill Christians when the truth is they are not far removed from the doctrine of Warren Jeffs.  It would be pretty hard for Mitt Romney to run for president of the USA with multiple wives, wouldn’t it? 

    Thanks Scribbins for the excellent article! You Rock! 

  • SweetGeekGoddess

    This is very well said!  Ironic that Utah was founded by religious fanatics that were fleeing to create Zion where they could practice their version of marriage i.e., polygamy. Now, the decedents of this whacked cult are persecuting folks for the same reasons their fore fathers came west.  

    As main stream Mormon doctrine still sanctions polygamy it is my opinion that the reason the LDS church is so adamant about one-man, one-woman is they are afraid it will negatively impact the PR they have worked so hard to maintain.  After all if the marriage laws were appealed to allow for same sex marriage, polyamory and polygamy, then the LDS church would have to admit that the only reason they don’t permit polygamy currently is that it is against the law of the land.  It would be pretty hard for them to promote and spin they are just run-of-the-mill Christians when the truth is they are not far removed from the doctrine of Warren Jeffs.  It would be pretty hard for Mitt Romney to run for president of the USA with multiple wives, wouldn’t it? 

    Thanks Scribbins for the excellent article! You Rock! 

  • SweetGeekGoddess

    This is very well said!  Ironic that Utah was founded by religious fanatics that were fleeing to create Zion where they could practice their version of marriage i.e., polygamy. Now, the decedents of this whacked cult are persecuting folks for the same reasons their fore fathers came west.  

    As main stream Mormon doctrine still sanctions polygamy it is my opinion that the reason the LDS church is so adamant about one-man, one-woman is they are afraid it will negatively impact the PR they have worked so hard to maintain.  After all if the marriage laws were appealed to allow for same sex marriage, polyamory and polygamy, then the LDS church would have to admit that the only reason they don’t permit polygamy currently is that it is against the law of the land.  It would be pretty hard for them to promote and spin they are just run-of-the-mill Christians when the truth is they are not far removed from the doctrine of Warren Jeffs.  It would be pretty hard for Mitt Romney to run for president of the USA with multiple wives, wouldn’t it? 

    Thanks Scribbins for the excellent article! You Rock! 

  • SweetGeekGoddess

    This is very well said!  Ironic that Utah was founded by religious fanatics that were fleeing to create Zion where they could practice their version of marriage i.e., polygamy. Now, the decedents of this whacked cult are persecuting folks for the same reasons their fore fathers came west.  

    As main stream Mormon doctrine still sanctions polygamy it is my opinion that the reason the LDS church is so adamant about one-man, one-woman is they are afraid it will negatively impact the PR they have worked so hard to maintain.  After all if the marriage laws were appealed to allow for same sex marriage, polyamory and polygamy, then the LDS church would have to admit that the only reason they don’t permit polygamy currently is that it is against the law of the land.  It would be pretty hard for them to promote and spin they are just run-of-the-mill Christians when the truth is they are not far removed from the doctrine of Warren Jeffs.  It would be pretty hard for Mitt Romney to run for president of the USA with multiple wives, wouldn’t it? 

    Thanks Scribbins for the excellent article! You Rock! 

  • This is so shocking. I have no idea the laws in Utah were this bad. It’s really stunned me.

  • Lucius Scribbens

    And it’s not just Utah, either. Doing some research on sex laws while writing this I found that all the other states I looked into has similar laws regarding bigamy, sodomy and adultery. The fornication law seems to be peculiar to Utah, though I didn’t look at all 50 states, either.

  • Lucius Scribbens

    Thank you. };^)~

  • Bikil

    Thank you for posting this. it’s a good place to send people to get a snapshot of the laws in Utah (and I will be posting it places!). 

    I think another good reason to get this crap off the books is because it shows that we have moved forward as a society. Steps like this are what helps people become more open minded to other lifestyles. Some people will violently oppose the removal of these laws, some will approve, most will not care, but actions like this are another step toward all of us being able to just live our lives without reprisal. It takes a critical mass to move society forward in mind, steps like this are what creates that. Taking these laws off the books show society that it is no longer acceptable to look down on people for these “offenses.” I’m not saying getting rid of these laws will change everything, it’s all a long process, but it is a great step towards sexual freedom.