A federal appeals court has ruled against four women and their husband in a move that means Utah once again has the toughest anti-polygamy law in the nation. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2013 ruling that effectively decriminalized polygamy by removing penalties for married people cohabiting with other adults who are treated as spouses, the Deseret News reports. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by Sister Wives reality show star Kody Brown and his polygamous family, who moved from Utah to Nevada to avoid possible prosecution. The court didn't address the constitutional issues the Brown lawsuit raised, but instead declared that the original lawsuit should have been tossed out years ago, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
The court decided, confusingly, that since the Browns and similar families were highly unlikely to be penalized, the penalties should stay in place, the AP reports. Utah declared years ago that polygamous families would not be prosecuted in the absence of crimes like coercion or fraud, but officials want to keep the law on the books to help prosecute people like Warren Jeffs. With families that are otherwise law-abiding, "we want them to come out of any shadows to report crimes, avoid abuse, and continue to live peaceful and productive lives," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes says. "We have worked with them in the past to those ends. And we have not used our scarce resources to prosecute them unless there is evidence of violence, fraud, or corruption." The Browns plan to appeal the ruling. (Read more polygamy stories.)