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ACLU offers help in a Green appeal

Group calls Utah bigamy statute unconstitutional

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PROVO — Polygamist Tom Green may be getting help from the last group of people he would expect: bleeding-heart liberals.

The American Civil Liberties Union has announced that it will petition to be a friend of the court if Green appeals his conviction on charges of bigamy and criminal nonsupport. It was two months ago that a jury found the 53-year-old plural marriage celebrity guilty of having a common law marriage to five women, in violation of Utah's common law marriage and bigamy laws.

Although the ACLU will not be able to participate in oral arguments, attorneys for the organization will be able to submit legal arguments, which could be considered by Utah's highest judges in making their decision.

"Our interest would be in helping the court to understand and analyze Utah's bigamy statute," said Utah ACLU's legal director, Stephen Clark. "Utah's bigamy statute is unconstitutional on its face."

Compared to bigamy statutes in other states, which mainly use the law when a person attempts to commit an act of fraud by marrying two spouses without their knowledge, Clark said Utah's statute includes language which states a person is guilty of bigamy if they "purport to marry or cohabitate."

Clark said the ACLU believes that such language was geared toward polygamists. "There certainly was no fraud involved in the Green case," he said, adding all five of Green's wives knew the situation.

"That language is intended to target that specific religious practice."

Although the ACLU does not support the practice of polygamy, Clark said there is a definite religious freedom issue that needs to be addressed.

The ACLU is not the only group planning to join the legal fray.

Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard said he too plans to petition to be a friend of the court on behalf of the Utah Civil Rights and Liberties Foundation Inc., which also believes Utah's bigamy and common law marriage statute are unconstitutional. In addition, the Libertarian political party has considered taking part in Green's appeal but has not reached a decision.

Barnard said the foundation is concerned over the state's use of common law marriage and bigamy statutes to prosecute people living together as if they were legally married. The effect, Barnard argues, is that people who cohabitate may not know if they are breaking the law.

"If you have a woman who is separated from her husband and is living with another man and having a sexual relationship," Barnard said. "She may be guilty of bigamy."

To be deemed a friend of the court, both Green and Juab County Prosecutor David Leavitt must consent to let them become part of the case.

Green said he welcomes all the help he can get. "I'm pleased to have help from any corner," he said. "I don't agree with the issues or practices they have defended," Green said. "But I've come to realize that in order for me to lead the life I want to live, I have to afford that to somebody else."

Leavitt, according to his office, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

But not everyone filing to be a friend of the court is a friend to Green. Tapestry Against Polygamy is also thinking about joining in the case.

"If the ACLU is considering something like that, there is a likelihood that we will as well," said Tapestry Against Polygamy executive director Vicky Prunty. The group contends Utah's bigamy laws need to be toughened and actively used against polygamist men, who they say exploit teenage girls by coercing them to marry much older men.

If Leavitt does not agree to let these groups join in the case, Clark said they could always petition directly to the supreme court justices, who can grant that status.

Even though each group has a slightly different agenda, all agreed that the Green case could be one of the most unusual legal discussions of our time.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com