SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Tuesday the state intends to appeal a federal judge’s decision that struck down key parts of the state’s polygamy laws.
Officials had been saying the decision was pending. But on Tuesday, Reyes confirmed his plan is to challenge the December ruling.
The Dec. 13 ruling was a victory for the polygamous family that stars in the TLC reality TV show “Sister Wives.” Kody Brown and his four wives sued Utah in 2011 after a county prosecutor threatened to charge them under the state’s bigamy law. They live in Las Vegas.
Reyes said he’s waiting for the judge to issue a final order on the ruling before he makes his final decision. The ruling isn’t in jeopardy of being changed, but it has yet to become official because of several unresolved, procedural issues.
It’s too soon to say whether his office would seek additional funds or outside attorneys for the appeal, Reyes said. The state is already spending up to $300,000 to bring in outside attorneys to defend its same-sex marriage ban before a federal appeals court.
One of the procedural issues holding up the case has been settled now that the Browns have decided it won’t ask the courts to be paid back for costs incurred when they fled Utah to Nevada.
Jonathan Turley, the Browns’ Washington, D.C.-based attorney, said the family only wants a federal judge in Utah to finalize the ruling. The family reserved the right to ask for attorneys fees.
Turley said having to leave their homes in Utah cost the family at least $200,000. That includes money lost by having to leave jobs and the costs of health care and moving, he said. But Turley said in an email that the Browns didn’t want to make the case only about them or their personal sacrifices.
“Plural families across Utah have faced losses under the threat of this law,” Turley said. “This was never about money for them; it was about principle.”
The Dec. 13 decision by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups was a landmark decision and a victory for the Browns, who sued Utah in 2011 after a county prosecutor threatened to charge them under the state’s bigamy law. Waddoups said a provision in Utah’s bigamy law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religion.
The ruling decriminalizes polygamy, but bigamy — holding marriage licenses with multiple partners — is still illegal. Utah’s law was considered stricter than the laws in 49 other states because of the cohabitation clause.
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.
Kody and his wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — said they hope the landmark ruling stands and enables other polygamous families in Utah to live openly without fearing prosecution.
The family’s decision not to ask to be paid back was first reported by FOX affiliate KSTU in Salt Lake City.