One month ago, United States District Court Judge Clarke Waddoups handed down his final ruling in favor of my clients in the Sister Wives case. Utah Attorney General, Sean Reyes has now filed his notice of appeal in the case — a move that will take this historic case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver and potentially to the Supreme Court.

Previously, Judge Waddoups handed down an historic ruling striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. Only one count remained: the Section 1983 claim that state officials (notably prosecutor Jeffrey R. Buhman) violated the constitutional rights of the Brown family in years of criminal investigation and public accusations. A month ago, he ruled in favor of the Brown family on that last count as well.

We are prepared to defend this and the prior ruling in Denver and I will be joined by our local counsel, Adam Alba (a former GW student) as well as our team of GW law students.

It is a rather curious position for the state of Utah in seeking to reverse one of the strongest defenses of religious liberty handed down in decades. This is a discretionary appeal and nothing compelled the state or Mr. Reyes to try to reverse the District Court of Utah. Mr. Reyes takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. The final judgment did precisely that.

After that decision, abuse of spouses and children will continue to be prosecuted regardless of whether they occur in monogamous or polygamous families. These protective services will only be strengthened now that many families can openly integrate into society and not fear prosecution merely because of their family structure. What remains of the statute was narrowly construed by the Court to limit future prosecutions to traditional bigamy, i.e. individuals with multiple marriage licenses. Neither the Attorney General nor the state of Utah should fight 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. Utah is better place because of the courageous decision of Judge Waddoups and the commitment of the Brown family in defense of our Constitution. Now the state will seek to reverse that outcome and walk back to the long-troubled history surrounding this law.

The Browns remain entirely committed to fighting to preserve the protections of religion, speech, and privacy established in this case for their family as well as other citizens. As lead counsel, it will be a distinct honor to defend not just the Brown family but this historic decision by Judge Waddoups.

Jonathan Turley
Lead Counsel for the Brown Family


  1. “What remains of the statute was narrowly construed by the Court to limit future prosecutions to traditional bigamy, i.e. individuals with multiple marriage licenses.”

    Prof. Turley, what if it were within the religious practices of a faith to engage in multiple distinct marriages simultaneously? Why is that not subject to the mandates of religious freedom?

    In my view, it is not for any government of men — federal, state, or local — to inject itself into one of the most intimate relationships humans can have during life on this earth.

  2. Sincity – you’re talking about the Lost Boys from Yearning for Zion, where all the young girls are given to much older men who hold dozens of wives. It’s a closed society, so the young boys are forced out so they don’t compete with the politically powerful elders. Others left on their own when they realized they disagreed with the mandatory lifestyle on the compound. There are no mates for many of them, because they are young and without influence. In a closed society, it’s basic math. If roughly half of the population are males and half are females, and a few males hold the majority of females, you will have a population of unmated males that are forced out.

    It’s much harder for the girls to leave.

    At least the Browns’ relationship is consensual, and occurs in an open society.


  3. Societies that practice polygamy experience more violence and anti-social behavior from excluded young men. You are a good lawyer but a poor anthropologist. Many libertarians focus on atomistic individual rights without heed to consequences for the fabric of society. This is just such an instance.

    That the morality of Western Civilization has been under relentless attack and marriage has been damaged is not justification for doing yet more damage.

    1. sincity – your evidence for this is anecdotal from the FLDS and not from polygamous groups at large. If you would like to cite us to a major study of societies outside the United States where there is more violence (but more violence than what?) and anti-social behavior (what exactly constitutes anti-social behavior – that in the eyes of the beholder or that in the eyes of the doer?) we would be happy to look at it in the hours of spare time we all have available.

      BTW, sister-wives is not polygamy but at worst serial adultery, which appear to no longer be against the law.

  4. Sure hope he loses this appeal. Let the people & the Constitution win. Of course the people are merely inmates of a Prison Nation.

  5. Not sure, but I’ve been talking to myself and….. Sammie told me to pay no attention…..

  6. Sammie… Mamie…. Glad you’re still here…. Do you ever think you’re talking to yourself….

  7. Eric Holder resigned. DAMN! I was hoping he would give some more great advice on Presidential pardons.

  8. BarkinDog – I live in Mormon country and I can tell you that some of these Mormon women are stunning. Mark Twain needed to get out more.

  9. Here is a comment from Mark Twain which I believe is the one Beldar referred to:

    “the Mormon women … these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures … the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure – and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.” Mark Twain

  10. I do not think the government should intrude in our private lives. But I also do not support allowing polygamous marriage licenses and benefits. The Browns’ polygamous marriage is only recognized in the eyes of the church, and they don’t get the tax benefits, etc for polygamous spouses.

    Who knows, maybe my comment will mark me one day for revenge, the same way people who oppose gay marriage get attacked and lose their jobs?

    But there it is. I support one adult marrying another adult. I do not think that religious organizations should be forced to perform any ceremony at all. Either find a church or temple that will perform a gay wedding, or get a civil ceremony. There are Christian and Jewish denominations that will do gay weddings.

    I think gay partners with a lifetime commitment should be entitled to the same government benefits and protections (and the same messy divorces) as an opposite sex married couple. People are born gay or straight; they cannot choose. I do not think they should be alone or have less relationship protections. For example, hospitals only allow a spouse or next of kin to visit a patient or make medical decisions in some instances. There are inheritance questions if someone dies without a will.

    My limit is “one adult with another adult.” For others that limit is that they be opposite sex. And there will be those who want no limits at all.

  11. Sandi Hemming-
    “When same-sex marriage became law, all forms of marriage were certainly up for debate.”

    Nope. Evidence?

    “The true purpose of marriage is to protect children.”

    Says who? The “true” purpose of marriage is different across culture, income, and time. It differs even within those.

    “Interesting that while same-sex marriages are soaring,”

    If you don’t allow something and then allow it, by definition, any statistical analysis will show that it is “soaring”. If one gay couple got married in 2010 and five gay couples got married in 2011, gay marriage went up 500%! Of course gay marriage is “soaring”.

    “With that decline is a reduction in children being born.”

    According to the CIA World Factbook, the crude birthrate in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012 dropped a whopping .52/1000. That’s from 14.2 to 13.68. The decline, such as it is, started well before gay marriage got any real traction.

  12. When same-sex marriage became law, all forms of marriage were certainly up for debate. The true purpose of marriage is to protect children. Interesting that while same-sex marriages are soaring, man/woman marriages are declining. With that decline is a reduction in children being born. Ergo, number of citizens shrinks. Enter Obama with the solution of letting people in from anywhere. Children born from these people will be citizens. Hopefully, all will find jobs, pay taxes, and fund Obamacare, perhaps. I’ve watched my country grow since WWII. We were like no other. It was a great 10-15 years and then Johnson. Between war on poverty and micromanaging (poorly) Vietnam, we tumbled down. At 72 I’m not anticipating watching my country grow again. Off track here, but my point is when you start degrading a society, Nero,etc. Polygamy will be approved and maybe marriages between many of both genders. In this week alone I’ve seen 19 pictures of individuals killing people or just beating them. This is too long.

  13. Since they only get marital benefits for one couple, and the rest are only married in the eyes of their church, what is Utah’s objection?

    If I understand correctly, legally, the wives have the same status as mistresses, which are common around the globe. Utah isn’t going around policing infidelity, as long as the mistress is not called a “spiritual wife.”

    I do not agree with their lifestyle, and cannot imagine “waiting my turn in the rotation” for my husband . . . seeing my “sister wife” come out of her room with a smile on her face, and my husband in her bed. If a man would not accept this arrangement, why should they? What message does that send to their daughters about their worth – that a man can have many of them but they have to be satisfied with sharing their husband with other women? I’ve seen a couple of episodes, and they all seem really nice and devoted to their families. I can’t understand their choices at all, but their lives are nothing like at Yearning For Zion.

    However, I do not want the government intruding in our private lives. It’s none of our business. Until they create a TV show, where we are then free to judge the good and the bad about their lifestyle. But it’s still not up to the government to regulate our personal lives.

    I understand the objection to one man siring dozens of children. It not only contributes to over population, but you have a ton of kids from one family competing for financial aid, scholarships, etc. And if they break up, it’s a huge drain on government resources.

    But there are already men who sire dozens of kids with different women out of wedlock. And women who have 5 kids with 5 different dads. And men who have a series of mistresses. We are all free to disagree with their choices, and think it’s unfair to their kids, but we can’t legislate against it, and shouldn’t try.

    Cody Brown currently supports all of those kids, and his wives, likely with the help of the show. So far, he’s doing a lot better than those men who keep siring children and leaving them, and their mothers, at the doorstep of Welfare to support.

  14. KT,
    Of course, the man on animal thing is mere hyperbole. I do not see any protections in the constitution for the rights of donkeys, unless of course they incorporate. 🙂

  15. In France, marriage is between a man and one woman. Not a man and six women. But, I refer you folks to your star novelist Mark Twain or by his real name Samuel Clemens. He has a book about travelling about in the old west. He makes a comment in there about the wonderful Mormon men who marry a bunch of homely women. For one man to take all of that on is true and wonderful. I will find the quote and post it later.

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