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Utah considers appeal of federal judge's 'Sister Wives' bigamy ruling

By Victoria Cavaliere

(Reuters) - Utah's attorney general said Wednesday he was considering an appeal of a U.S. federal judge's ruling that declared part of Utah's bigamy law unconstitutional and which sided with the star of reality television show "Sister Wives" and his four wives.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office said in a statement that attorneys were reviewing the ruling and could file an appeal in coming weeks.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups on Wednesday finalized a December ruling that struck down a section of the law that bars consenting adults from living together in a romantic arrangement and criminalizes their intimate sexual relationships.

Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states. But Utah's law is unique in that a person can be found guilty not just for having two legal marriage licenses, but also for cohabiting with another adult in a marriage-like relationship when they are already legally married to someone else.

In his December ruling, Waddoups said the law violates both the First Amendment's clause ensuring religious rights and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause to protect personal liberty.

The rest of Utah's bigamy law remains intact so only individuals who fraudulently obtain multiple marriage licenses would be guilty. Bigamy is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Waddoups also ruled Wednesday that Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman violated the constitutional rights of Kody Brown and his four wives, stars of the TV show "Sister Wives," when he investigated them for bigamy, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

He was ordered to pay back their attorneys fees.

Jonathan Turley, the attorney for the Brown family, told the newspaper he believes the judge's decision protects the Constitution.

"For the state of Utah to appeal this case, it will have to go to [the appeals court in] Denver and argue against the freedom of religion," he told the Tribune.

Utah is the headquarters state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, which abandoned polygamy in 1890 as Utah was seeking statehood. Some sects and breakaway groups, however, follow the early theological doctrine of plural marriage, thought to bring exaltation in heaven.

The Brown family and their 17 children who formerly lived in Lehi, Utah, are members of the Apostolic United Brethren, a Utah-based church that follows plural marriage doctrine.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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