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Reality TV 'Sister Wives' to challenge Utah anti-polygamy law
Kody Brown and his four wives, the stars of TLC's reality show "Sister Wives."
July 12th, 2011
01:26 PM ET

Reality TV 'Sister Wives' to challenge Utah anti-polygamy law

By Joe Sterling, CNN

Kody Brown and his four wives - the stars of the reality TV show "Sister Wives" - will soon be the subjects of another real-life drama, this one at the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Browns plan to challenge the state's anti-bigamy statute Wednesday, when attorney Jonathan Turley files a complaint on behalf of the family's fight for the rights of "plural families."

Sister Wives explained: A fundamentalist Mormon polygamy primer

"There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families," Kody Brown said in a statement posted on Turley's website Tuesday. "We only wish to live our private lives according our beliefs."

"Sister Wives" is a TLC program about the polygamous Browns and their 16 children. They've moved from Utah and now live in Nevada, a TLC spokeswoman said. Turley said "they could very well move back to Utah," but they had to leave because they were subject to criminal investigation and the "hostile environment" was not conducive to raising children.

Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said on his website that he and the Browns aren't calling for the "recognition of polygamous marriage."

"We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs," he said.

Opinion: Why this female priest loves 'Sister Wives'

Turley says the case "represents the strongest factual and legal basis for a challenge to the criminalization of polygamy ever filed in the federal courts."

Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's office, said the state "has defended the state's bigamy law in the past and the Utah Supreme Court has held that the state has the right to regulate marriage and to ban bigamy."

Bigamy is a third-degree felony with the potential penalty of one to 15 years in prison, Murphy said. The law was first enacted in the 1890s and the Utah Constitution also forbids polygamy. The law and the constitutional ban were a condition for Utah to become a state, he said.

The last person charged with bigamy was Rodney Holm, a Hildale, Utah, police officer who was also charged with unlawful sex with a 15 or 16 year old, Murphy told CNN.

Holm was convicted of bigamy and unlawful sex in 2003 for taking his first wife's younger sister as a third wife. Holm challenged the law but the Utah Supreme Court in 2006 held that the state has the right to regulate marriage and ban bigamy.

Utah is the base of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, and it has a history of polygamy, which the church renounced more than a century ago. However, offshoots of mainstream Mormonism still engage in the practice.

"This action seeks to protect one of the defining principles of this country, what Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the right to be left alone.' In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values - even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state," Turley said.

One case that could figure as important in the case is the Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003, when the majority of the Supreme Court struck down laws banning consensual sex between same-sex couples. That case involved two consenting adults who didn't seek recognition of their relationship, were not involved in any crimes and whose behavior was private, Turley said.

Turley said that in polygamy cases, other crimes come up, such as child sex abuse. In this case, he said, the Browns are a successful family who've committed no crimes and have children who are thriving in school. They are simply living their private lives according to their own values and faith, Turley asserted, and aren't seeking multiple marriage licenses.

However, he told CNN, their spiritual matrimonial commitments, as seen on TV, have triggered suspicions from authorities in Utah regarding bigamy. Seeing their private behavior as law-breaking is an "obvious contradiction," because other combinations of people are not penalized for having multiple relations and multiple children by multiple partners.

The Browns, he said, should have the same rights as enjoyed by other kinds of families. Such individuals should not be subject to arrest the minute they express a spiritual commitment.

"Can they be prosecuted because their private relationships are obnoxious to other citizens?" he asks.

The Browns praised Turley and his team for their efforts.

"While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy," Kody Brown said in his statement. "Together we hope to secure equal treatment with other families in the United States."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints • Utah

soundoff (759 Responses)
  1. Joe

    First I will agree that many polygomous relationships, among the splintered mormon sects, involve child abuse. The main stream Mormon church banned polygamy many years ago. But several mormons broke from the mormon church because of the issue and those who broke have started their own churches that allow polygamy. I have no tolerance for child abuse or forced slavery. I have no tolerance for how the radical mormon sects treat the young boys and force the young girls to marry much older men. But I don't see that in this case. If the authorities discover such things in the future I'll pull my support for these people and move on. But the article is simply about the practice of polygamy. I see nothing wrong with polygamy as long as those entering into it are adults and are entering into the marriage of their own free will. Good Day, Joe.

    July 13, 2011 at 3:52 am |
  2. Joe

    I'm not saying polygamy should ever be the norm. I also would guess polygamy fails more than it works in our society. Commons sense can see the issues that could cause strife in such a family. My problem is in the Idea of America. We Americans think were so high and mighty about what is morally right. Polygamy has been the norm for many societies and it has worked well historically. Is it for me, nope but that does not mean it can not work and it certainly does not mean we, as a society, should tell four consenting adults who are happy that they can't keep their family together. Again I reference the above post by me. America is about Life, Liberty, and the Persuit of Happiness. These folks are harming no one. It's the feminist who scream that their is no way this thing could work, how horrible this thing is. No Feminist it's horrible how the radical Islamist treat their women, like property. In hard line Islamic societies they treat their farm animals better than their wives. So if you have some preaching to do take to the middle east. Leave this happy and apparently stable family alone. Good Day, Joe.

    July 13, 2011 at 3:42 am |
  3. Darren

    I feel sorry for the man, Imagine being nagged at by FOUR woman at the same time. Also womans cycle come into syinc PMS x 4 ! I would move out 1 week in 4 !

    July 13, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  4. Eville_11

    watch as America lowers the standards and loses all capability to to regulate or keep itself from imploding like a mini sun leaving a black hole of despots and freaks....

    July 13, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  5. Eville_11

    yehaaaa, hillbillie mentality in Utah, oh, Nevada... and to think, I slept with my wife, her sister, and her cousin all in one day... !!! Yeeehaaaaa.. its OK! un gol darrnnnit Ima gonna fight it to the Supreme Court jus so I keep'n em in my bed.. yehhaaa.
    Social Standards= 0 Chaotic undermining of Values= 4
    Next week: Bob from Boise Marries his Sheep Herd... Says its love, and his duty to protect the critters from evil misrepresentation by the corporate farmers as a secondary livestock...

    July 13, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      Did we forget our pills tonight ?

      July 13, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  6. brown

    I'd tap the chick on the right. The rest are throw backs!

    July 13, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • Desmond has a Barrow

      I bet there is a direct relationship between time married into this freak show and weight. They look larger and less happy as you go from right to left.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  7. loser

    This is just Nasty one man and four girls what is the point of that. Why don't they just go out and find their own man
    their is no way in hell i could love a men that has 3 other women. He has so many kids does he even know all of there names.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Peace2All

      Have you actually watched the show...? And, without prejudice and bias...?

      Apparently not, as your posting does not reflect what happens in the show.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  8. Smokin' Deist

    To be honest, I have no objection to plural marriage as long as those involved are willing and of legal age of consent. They are harming no one and as long as they can make it work, more power to them. I do not see myself with more than one wife, but that doesn't mean that someone else has to be bound to a single spouse.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  9. minoritybyrace

    Women in our country have come so far, and yet these women want to take us back thousand of years back before Christ, that is if you believe in Christ. If you don't then you should at least be concerned about the children being raised and inbreed this creates.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Peace2All

      Have you actually seen the show...? And if so... 'really' watched the show over the last couple of seasons...?

      From your posting above, I'm guessing you 'really' haven't.

      However, if you say you have, then, in my opinion, please provide some kind of rational and tangible evidence to support your claims.

      Because, your claims are in 'no way' supported if you truly watch the show.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • tiredofthisbs

      peace2all: Please check spelling and grammar before posting. I know you're trying to sound educated but it really fails when you put quoting and grammar errors everywhere.
      Regards,
      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Joe

      You know folks on hear are so up in arms about getting into other folks business. America is about freedom to do as you please as long as what you do hurts no one else. This story is about five consenting adults who agree to live in a polygomous relationship. No one is forced or made to be in that relationship. Of course if the women were actuallly minors or being forced into such activities I would vehemently oppose it. But we are suppose to be free in the country to life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness. If being married to four adult women makes you happy and makes them happy I say why not. I can tell you it's not for me. One wife drives me crazy and the expenses involved with for wives and God knows how many kids. No sir I can't afford the one I got much less anymore. But If one can afford it and you have four willing and happy adult women who want to marry you at the same time then who's business is it? No ones, certainly not ours. So all your hot head feminist get your panties out of a wad and stop making an issue out of a non-issue. Freedom is what this is about and I support them. Good Day, Joe.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  10. Obamo

    This guy likes obese women obviously!

    July 13, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  11. Me

    Why would ANY man want 4 wives? Imagine, each of those wives have their periods one week after another. That's PMS 24/7. I'm not sure if the women will be slaves but for the adult boy here.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  12. Juturna

    If they wanted to be left alone about all of it, why do a TV show..?

    July 13, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • tiredofthisbs

      Good point. I'm guessing because he can't support all these wives and children financially. Kinda like the Duggar family with their 20 or so kids (haven't counted in a while) but that's a whole other issue of irresponsibility.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  13. KKKKKatie

    I think this family is the exception and not the rule. I know alot of these families aren't "healthy" although this one seems to care about their kids and mind their own business. The one thing I take away from this show is the "needy" way these women express or try to validate their lifestyle. They seem obsessed with having "bulit in" women friends and a solid foundation of constant support. It's a shame that they don't realize that they can have female friends as support and not share a man with them.

    Also, human nature is human nature. It doesn't matter race, religion or culture. You can never convince me that these women are always okay with sharing a man. How weird to be in bed at night and know that my husband is sleeping with someone else. Even a woman I love. They aren't honest about their feelings.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Peace2All

      @KKKKKatie

      Hey -Katie...

      There certainly 'may' be some of what you say in terms of some buried jealousies, etc... going on. It seems to me, in my opinion, that it just means a 'different' set of problems, but... doesn't 'mean' that they are not a loving and kind family.

      Just means that they are different.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  14. Daniel

    He has 4 women, but all 4 look so undesirable...keep them, man! Leave the attractive ones for us, the monogamysts!

    July 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  15. Reality

    Polygamy in today's modern part of the world is another word for adultery punishable by divorce and significant alimony. Of course in Islam, said polygamy/adultery for males is condoned as being blessed by Allah and his "profit" Mohammed. A Muslim female, however, is not blessed and is stoned for this transgression showing yet again the terror that is Islam!!!

    July 12, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Spiffy

      That is why all religion sucks. Although I do agree with polygamy. Whatever consulting adults want to do is not our business.

      July 12, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  16. Goddog

    Situations like these exist only because the US has decided to keep the line between religious marriage and civil marriage so blurred. Let's move to a system where you enter into a contract at the civil level first and then you can have whatever ceremony you wish (or that your place of worship will allow). I don't think religion belongs in the business of officiating over government business and I don't think that our government needs to waste time and money prosecuting people for their spiritual beliefs. Problem solved.

    July 12, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Laura

      i'm against polygamy but also against government definitions of marriage. for example, anyone should be able to get married to whoever the please so long as they are not minors. another point to consider is that living openly with 4 women should not be regarded by the state as any different than being married to one woman and cheating with women XYZ. in fact, cheating should be handled more severely as it posses more of a risk for contraction of communicable diseases and destroys marriages/families. with antibiotic resistant gonorrhea now circulating, the government should really focus on cheating spouses and not marital anomalies.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Laura

      Hmmm... So... apparently you are advocating that our government 'should' get involved and create laws, "severe" ones against cheating spouses...? Really...?

      And, what would you suggest...?

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • A citizen of the USA

      While I do not think polygamy is a good type of relationship, I do find it a bit hypocritical to prosecute this family who coexist and seem to have healthy, well-functioning children all because they have chosen to live under the same roof. What is the difference between the husband in this family and a guy who has children with a wife (who does not want a divorce) and children with a mistress (or two or even more)? Are we to believe that the guy sleeping around in different houses is more moral than a guy who has the fortune (or some would think misfortune) to have all the women in his life get along and live together? Prosecuting a husband who has more than one wife and the wives are unaware of each other is one thing, but I think consensual polygamy should have some kind of exception... BUT, if polygamy did get accepted then I would require that a wife should be able to have more than one husband as well! Otherwise it really would be an unfair system.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • tiredofthisbs

      citizen of USA: While I really appreciate the last comment you made about it being an equal system, I don't think that having more than one spouse is any type of wall/barricade against a husband or wife cheating. If the h or w is unsatisfied with their one spouse or 4 or 10 spouces they're going to cheat regardless.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  17. June

    What adults do in relationships is their business. That said however..... one, I think those woman REALLY need psychiatric help. Lots of it. The other side to this is that when mixing "mormon' and 'polygamy', there is almost always child abuse involved. And those poor children!!! heck, I can at least understand gay marriage and families! They still have two parents devoted to one another in monogamy. Those boys are going to grow up thinking its perfectly ok to play with other women when they're married.. they can not possibly understand the concept of "cheating" or monogomy. I certainly wouldn't want my daughter to have anything to do with one of those boys! For the girls, its even worse! They are being trained from the beginning that it is perfectly ok for her husband to go out and have his fun regardless of the STD consequences. Those poor girls will never understand what its like to be truly loved, and will be stomped on and abused by their husbands, since their husbands will know they can do whatever they want to them and its ok. Thats just sad.

    July 12, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  18. NW1000

    What a bunch of Fruit Loops.

    July 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  19. Joleen

    So, the Chinese have a serious problem with lack of women since they kill them as babies. Perhaps they should consider polyandry. Keep the birth rate down, certainly. I think brothers would be best, since they share genetic bloodline for taking care of their children or niece or nephew.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  20. dudley0418

    In this age when a pair of the same gender can "marry" and "have a baby," who's to say that a man and a few women can't be happily married and bring up well-adjusted children? At least they can actually procreate. Seems to me that polygamy is much closer to the actual spirit and intent of a marriage than is a gay marriage, or a marriage to an animal, let's say.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Blah

      Good thing an idiot like you isn't in charge.

      July 12, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • June

      Yeah, uh huh. So there is something wrong with two, loving, monogomous people raising children, but its perfectly ok and "close to the idea of marriage" for women to be nothing more than S E X slaves? Lovely.

      July 12, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Clues to the Clueless

      Allow me to repeat myself: Why is it that there is always some idiot who makes the wild and ridiculous leap to "They'll be marrying their pet hamster next" nonsense?

      Why is marrying animals or children off the table? Duh . . . informed consent, perhaps?

      July 12, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @dudley0418

      Hey there -dudley...

      You Said: "In this age when a pair of the same gender can "marry" and "have a baby," who's to say that a man and a few women can't be happily married and bring up well-adjusted children? At least they can actually procreate. Seems to me that polygamy is much closer to the actual spirit and intent of a marriage than is a gay marriage, or a marriage to an animal, let's say."

      I think where your argument starts to lose some steam here, (IMHO) is when you talk of 'procreation' somehow = 'actual' spirit and intent of marriage.' Remember, a good portion of people getting married have -0- desire to have children, and 'never' have them. And they are o.k. with that.

      As I understand it, being married to someone is about sharing your lives together with love, commitment, and the sharing of similar values and goals, etc... Which would obviously include people that are 'gay.'

      As for your argument about animals... that begins to get into what is called in latin... 'argumentum ad absurdum.' I'm guessing that you can figure that one out.

      And, as you started out by stating above,"who's to say that a man and a few women can't be happily married and bring up well-adjusted children ?"

      Now 'that' is a good question, -dudley.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 13, 2011 at 1:39 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.