From our man in Denver — A month after his arrest, the work of our old friend Warren Steed Jeffes, leader and prophet of the fundamentalist Mormons, continues in his absence.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals formally accepted written arguments submitted earlier this year by a Mormon trio; man wife and prospective wife number two.
The Utah ménage (all Mormons) are asking the Denver-based federal appeals court to overturn Utah’s ban on polygamy, saying it violates their rights to religion, association and privacy.
The case is being watched closely by Mormons, who hope the U.S. Supreme Court, will eventually take it up – in 1878 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the polygamy conviction of George Reynolds, personal secretary to Mormon leader Brigham Young.
“The sincere and deeply held religious beliefs of J. Bronson, D. Cook and G. Lee Cook are that the doctrine of plural marriage, i.e., a man having more than one wife, is ordained of God and is to be encouraged and practiced,” submitted their lawyer.
Their legal argument hinges on a case in 2003, when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas ban on chap-on-chap action. They have argued that the state’s ban unconstitutionally targets one religion, and that under the 2003 ruling, striking down Texas laws banning sodomy, polygamy is a private interest that should not be prosecuted.
“They [Supreme Court] found no compelling state interest in criminalizing homosexual sodomy based on a long history of states and/or a majority of society finding the practice immoral. Similarly, the state of Utah can offer no compelling justification for criminalizing polygamy.”
Thereby legally conceding from the outset that they (the plaintiffs) are immoral.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Nancy Kemp said the state’s anti-bigamy law affects all residents, not just members of fundamentalist Mormon sects who continue to hold those beliefs despite a decision by many Mormons to abandon the practice more than 100 years ago.
“Nothing in the statute suggests that it is to be applied only in the context of religiously motivated plural marriage, and, in fact, it has been applied outside the context of religion,” Kemp wrote.
Polygamy, along with incest, abduction and forced marriage, has been practiced in Utah since the 1800s, when early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled the Salt Lake valley.
The faith officially abandoned these practices in 1890, although they continue among some members privately or in public splinter factions.