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Utah's bigamy statute is facially neutral as it explains what it prohibits in secular terms, without referring to religious practices. The statute does not on its face mention polygamists or their religion. In addition, the word "cohabit" does not have religious origins or connotations; rather, it is a word of secular meaning. Utah's bigamy statute is not a statute that refers to a religious practice without a secular meaning discernible from the language.
An avowed polygamist, defendant had participated in simultaneous conjugal-type relationships with multiple women. The women all used his surname and had borne children who also used his surname. Through his relationships with nine women, he had fathered approximately 25 children. Before his bigamy trial, the trial court declared that he and one of the women were legally married pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 30-1-4.5. He argued on appeal that Utah's bigamy statute (Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101 (1999)), violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; Utah's bigamy statute was unconstitutionally vague; and, the trial court erred in applying Utah's unsolemnized marriage statute, Utah Code Ann. § 30-1-4.5 (1999).
Did the Utah’s bigamy statute violate defendant’s Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
The appellate court held that Utah's bigamy statute did not violate defendant's federal constitutional right to free exercise of religion, and that Utah's bigamy statute was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to defendant's conduct. According to the court, Utah's bigamy statute was facially neutral as it explained what it prohibited in secular terms, without referring to religious practices. Moreover, the court held that the State's use of Utah's unsolemnized marriage statute to establish a legal marriage between defendant and one of the women was not inappropriate. According to the court, since Utah’s bigamy statute was neutral and of general applicability, the State was not required to show that the interests it served were compelling or that the statute was narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests. Instead, the State need show only that the statute was rationally related to a legitimate government end. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.