Prosecutor’s Policy: We Won’t Enforce Polygamy Ban, Because of a Concern About Religious Minority Group

So says a County Attorney’s declaration filed on May 22, 2012 in a federal case challenging the polygamy ban on constitutional grounds:

The policy, as officially adopted by the … County Attorney’s Office, states:

Prosecution of Bigamy Crimes:
The … County Attorney’s Office will prosecute the crime of bigamy … in two circumstances: (1) When a victim is induced to marry through their partner’s fraud, misrepresentations or missions; or (2) When a person purports to marry or cohabits with another person … and is also engaged in some type of abuse, violence or fraud. This office will prosecute the crime of child bigamy … regardless of whether one of the parties is also engaged in some type of abuse, violence or fraud….

This policy is intended, under the prosecutorial discretion exercised by this Office, to prevent the future prosecution … of bigamous marriages entered into for religious reasons.

“Bigamy” is the name of the state law offense that would on its face include what is often called “polygamy,” which is to say one person living with multiple people as spouses (even if not legally recognized as spouses), with everyone knowing what’s going on: “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.” (“Cohabit” is understood to mean to “live together as husband and wife,” 153 P.2d 647 (1944).)

I think polygamy bans are a bad idea: If adults live together in a polygamous household, viewing themselves as married under their own religious laws or cultural conventions but not deriving any state-law recognition or benefits (beyond that given to the initial, legally valid two-person marriage), I don’t think the government should step in. But in any case, I thought this development might be of interest to our readers.

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