HELENA — Attorneys for the state said a polygamous trio in Billings does not face a credible threat of criminal prosecution and asked a federal judge to throw out the family’s lawsuit seeking to strike down Montana’s bigamy laws.
Nathan Collier, his wife Victoria and his common-law wife Christine challenged Montana’s bigamy laws after Yellowstone County officials denied him and Christine a marriage license in June.
Nathan and Victoria Collier married in 2000. He and Christine Collier held a wedding ceremony in 2007 — but did not sign a marriage license.
Nathan and Christine Collier are now seeking to legally wed but say the state’s bigamy laws forbidding a man from marrying more than one woman prevents them from doing so. Nathan Collier said they were inspired to sue in part by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that legalized gay marriage nationwide.
The Colliers must show that they were harmed by a law in order to sue, but there has been no criminal prosecution threatened as a result of being denied a marriage license, an attorney for the state Department of Justice said in a court document filed Friday.
“It appears … that plaintiffs interpreted their denial of a marriage license as enforcement of Montana’s criminal bigamy statutes, which it is not, and thus, challenge the constitutionality of Montana’s criminal bigamy statutes rather than the denial of a marriage license,” Assistant Attorney General Melissa Schlichting wrote in the motion to dismiss.
Schlichting asked U.S. District Judge Susan Watters to dismiss the lawsuit.
The Colliers, who have been living together since 2007, claim the laws deny their constitutionally guaranteed rights to equal protection, due process, free speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association.
“It’s bad enough that the state would deny us our right to simply exist as a family in accordance with our own beliefs, but now they seek to deny us due process and take away the only means through which we can pursue legal legitimacy,” Nathan Collier said in response to the state’s motion to dismiss.
The Colliers have eight children from their own and from past relationships and went public by appearing on the reality cable television show “Sister Wives” in January. They were previously excommunicated from the Mormon church for polygamy.
Their lawsuit names Attorney General Tim Fox, Gov. Steve Bullock, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito and Yellowstone County District Court Clerk Kristie Lee Boelter as defendants.
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