Judge Upholds Refusal to License Plural Marriage

Judge Upholds Refusal to License Plural Marriage

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge has upheld Utah's ban on polygamy as it applies to issuing marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart emphasized his ruling was about marriage -- not about personal sexual conduct.

Stewart's ruling Wednesday upheld the decision of the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office to refuse a marriage license for a couple in which the man was seeking a second wife.

Stewart rejected the argument that Utah's prohibition on polygamy was an unconstitutional violation of religious and privacy rights and he ruled that the state has an interest in protecting monogamous marriage.

He cited rulings upholding Utah's polygamy laws stretching back to an 1878 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the polygamy conviction of George Reynolds, personal secretary to Mormon pioneer leader Brigham Young.

Stewart said the Lawrence v. Texas ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned an anti-sodomy law as a violation of the privacy of consenting adults, grants no right to plural marriage in Utah.

"Contrary to plaintiffs' assertion, the laws in question here do not preclude their private sexual conduct," Stewart said. "They do preclude the state of Utah from recognizing the marriage of plaintiff G. Lee Cook to plaintiff J. Bronson as a valid marriage under the laws of the state of Utah."

Bronson and Cook, accompanied by Cook's first wife. D. Cook, applied for a marriage license in December 2003 at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.

After G. Lee Cook wrote on the application that he was married and said he wanted to legally marry a second wife, clerks refused to issue the license and refunded the fee.

The three sued, challenging prohibitions in Utah Constitution and state statutes against bigamy and polygamy. They say the doctrine of plural marriage is a central tenet in their religious beliefs.

Attorney Brian Barnard, who represented the three, said, "We knew it would be well nigh impossible to successfully argue that a federal trial court should reverse a long-standing decision of the U.S. Supreme Court."

Barnard said Bronson and the Cooks will appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He had argued that the state should not criminalize consensual intimate relationships and pointed to the Lawrence v. Texas decision as backing for his position.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen said the state has the right to regulate marriage.

"There is a difference between private sexual rights and marriages that are recognized by the state," he said Wednesday.

Although he acknowledged that G. Lee Cook could be prosecuted for bigamy under Utah's law, he maintained that the state focuses on cases involving other offenses, such as marriages to underage girls.

In a separate case, Rodney Holm, a former Hildale police officer, is challenging the polygamy ban in an appeal of his 2003 bigamy conviction. Holm was prosecuted because his third wife was 16 at the time of their spiritual marriage.

Polygamist Tom Green also has cited the Texas sodomy ruling in an appeal of his bigamy conviction. He also was convicted of child rape because one wife was 13 at the time her first child was conceived.

Polygamy was a practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 19th century, but was abandoned when the territory sought statehood and its prohibition was written into the state's constitution. It has been enforced with varying degrees of vigor over the last century. The church excommunicates members who still advocate it, but there are believed to be possibly 30,000 adherents of plural marriages in the West.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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