SALT LAKE CITY — Members of a Utah polygamist family lauded the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to strike down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, saying it's a step toward changing perceptions of people like them as "second-class citizens."
Joe Darger, who wrote a book with his three wives entitled "Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage," said he and his family are celebrating the victory for gay marriage after the high court ruled that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that DOMA effectively made a subset of state-sanctioned marriages unequal.
Darger speculated the ruling could help other people in plural marriages, including the Brown family, which is suing to challenge a Utah law making bigamy a third-degree felony.
The case of the Browns, who star in the TLC reality TV show "Sister Wives," is pending before Judge Clark Waddoups. Darger said Waddoups may have been waiting on the DOMA ruling before stepping out on the polygamy case.
"I think this gives Waddoups all the ammunition he needs," Darger told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/17grBA7).
Lawyers involved in polygamy cases, however, expect the DOMA ruling will have limited impact on their efforts.
Washington D.C.-based attorney Jonathan Turley, who represents the Brown family, said the issue surrounding the DOMA and Proposition 8 rulings was the legal recognition of certain types of relationships, not criminalization.
"Our case is about the criminalization of relationships, rather than the recognition," Turley said. "What does help us is the reaffirmation of the court that these relationships are protected by due process."
The most significant part about the rulings for polygamists, he said, was that they represent a shift away from morality as a justification for a law.
"Only Justice (Antonin) Scalia and Justice (Clarence) Thomas continued to argue in favor of morality legislation," Turley said.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com