Emory Law Journal


In Brown v. Buhman, the recent challenge to the Utah law criminalizing polygamy brought by the stars of the reality television show Sister Wives, a federal district court determined both that strict scrutiny was required and that strict scrutiny could not be satisfied. A significant factor in this result was the state¿s failure to mount a strong defense of the law, assuming that it could rely on long standing polygamy precedents such as the United States Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. United States and more recent Tenth Circuit and Utah Supreme Court decisions to justify limiting scrutiny to rational basis and to provide legitimate reasons for the criminalization of polygamy. However, the State could have taken advantage of a then just released Canadian opinion, Reference re: Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada (Reference), to explain the real and expansive harms of polygamy. The Reference court undertook an exhaustive examination of the impact of polygamy on women, on children, on men, and on society, utilizing empirical evidence, expert reports, personal anecdotes, and a wide range of ¿Brandeis Brief¿ materials. This Article argues that the broad range of social and individual harms of polygamy identified in Reference provide a compelling state interest sufficient to withstand the strict scrutiny deemed necessary by Brown.