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. just a thought

    To be sure I haven't read all 600+ of these posts, nor do I think poligamy is right, but if this is the way these people want to live that's OK with me. However, I think the lawmakers should write the laws so that such a family can not take advanage of government welfare souport and abuse it; for example: if the family falls on hard times, only the two origional spouses (leagal marraige) and their children may make claims.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  2. teremist

    I have no empathy for these people, at all. Apart from the fact that their behavior is illegal and immoral, what they pass on to their children, makes me ill. Boys learn, that women are servants and breeders, girls learn to BE servants and breeders. Not to mention that the girls are often forced and coerced into "marriages," while they are still under-age. DISGUSTING.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • do what?

      What part of their lives is being done illegally? They had nothing more than commitment ceremonies with three of the woman. That isn't illegal. It isn't immoral to them and being immoral isn't the same as illegal. They are all consenting adults and the children are thriving. None of the women are servants as all of their actions are by their own choices. This is their religion and they should be allowed to continue as long as no laws are broken. He has not taken any underage brides, as a matter of fact they are all fully grown women and none of them are on welfare. They are a self supporting sufficient family which is more then I can say for most families.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Lasren

      to: teremist
      "I have no empathy for these people, at all. Apart from the fact that their behavior is illegal and immoral, what they pass on to their children, makes me ill. Boys learn, that women are servants and breeders, girls learn to BE servants and breeders. Not to mention that the girls are often forced and coerced into "marriages," while they are still under-age. DISGUSTING"

      1) How is it illegal? Prove there is more than one marriage other than spiritually or belief. They have only one married couple. Without proof of illegality there is no charge. You can make all the laws you want, but you have to prove there is an infraction of said law, and I do not believe it is actually provable, anymore than making the case that a married man who has a mistress is engaged in polygamy.

      2) I may agree that it can alter how the kids percieve the world and their roles, but this happens in every household. We all ingrain ideas of normalcy to our children. Some accept them and others dont. Overall though I believe with the high ammounts of media and interaction with people outside of our homes children are less likely to believe at face value the beliefs and values their parents espouse.

      3) Lastly I wanted to say that you it is immoral. Well morals should not be legislated, unless the 'immoral' action can be proven to harm someone. If the net effect on others rights is nothing then there is no harm, no foul. If we go with what is moral and legislate off of that, then I want to make it a law that it is immoral to allow chilrden to eat candy and cokes except on special occasions as it is damaging to their physical self. Should this be a morality that is legislated in order to protect the children? I am all against the nanny state and breaking of the freedoms we have.

      –good day

      July 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  3. Lasren

    As long as no fraud on wellfare or assitance is committed, and only one is legally the spouse I believe there is no leg to stand on, as far as trying to punish people for this.

    1) How can you prove he is 'married' to more than one woman without him actually being married legally to more than one?
    2) If you are going to say it is because he is married and has other women, then you have to go after people who cheat in marriages as polygamists as well since they have the same proof against them.
    3) If you are going to attack the fact that believe they are religously/spiritualy married to each other then you are violating their rights that are federally protected so long as their practice does not harm others. ( i.e. human sacrifice is not a protected religous practice).
    4) If you see polygamists as criminals you have to be able to prove crime being commited. There is no evidence that can be shown from paperwork that they are married to more than one person therefore there is no crime. The way to go after the bad ones is through charges on fraud of the wellfare systems or taxation fraud that occurs. Those are the only ones to go after.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  4. elenore

    That man can't properly be a father to that many children.And it's wrong because he is bottle necking the gene pool.It's great passing on your genes but not if your running the risk incestuous communities.That's what starts to happen in these communities.Why do you think him and his wives look like cousins,they probably are distant cousins.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Lasren

      Legally prove he is not being a father to that many children, i.e. neglect, abuse, etc. If you can't then the government cannot make a moral judgement on the terms you indicate.

      In the case of incest that is a seperate charge all together and can be punished. Again you have no basis in legal doctrine to make the claims you have made.

      1) People exist that have that many children with one partner. Can we criminalize people based on the number of children they have? –No we cannot. We can however act if there is evidence of neglect/abuse.

      2) Also again going back to you incest argument and the people may be distant cousins...gentically once you get a few cousins out it does not matter.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • elenore

      China has these propaganda Bloggers,sounds like your one but for plural marriage.Mormon Church paying you or is this part of your missionary work?

      July 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Lasren

      No I am not apid for this. Stay classy Elanore. I am merely someone who is tired of people trying to govern over everything. I believe no one has the right to tell people what to do in their bedroom with other consenting adults. I am honestly repulsed by the sight of two men together, but I would die to not let them be trampled by the government. I think as long as no fraud of tax payers money is occuring and there is no child abuse it is none of our business.

      Also I am all for legalization of marijuana. I, like many other people, am just tired of government deciding what is best for us morally or health wise when it does not overall effect others.

      July 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  5. Katie

    Why are polygamist relationships always men with multiple wives??? One man can't keep one than one woman happy. I think a woman with 3 or 4 husbands is a MUCH better idea.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Peace2All


      Well... go for it !



      July 13, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Nonimus

      Well said!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Wikipedia

      iIt's called polyandry... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyandry

      July 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • ZT_Chester

      Because then it wouldn't be polygamy; it would be polyandry or, generally, polyamorous. Words have meanings.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • do what?

      lol I am SOO with youi!...as long as they have jobs anyway! lol

      July 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • LPF

      Katie, I'm guessing you're unmarried? Or I've been married too long, because most days – 1 husband is too many. Would be nice to make him someone else's problem, ahem, husband for the day. 😉

      If you can make 2 men happy, have multiple remotes and don't mind the seat up all the time – go for it. I'd rather go with someone who will help me watch the kids for a half hour or pick up the drycleaning.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I thought polygamy was the gender neutral word. Polyandry is multiple husbands specifically. Polygyny is multiple wives specifically.
      Correct me if I'm wrong.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  6. Jane Doeish

    It is strange but.. it is their choice and they take care of their children and they are not living off the state, so who cares?

    July 13, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  7. happylife

    Bless them for bringing polygamy as a way of life out in the open. I'm proud to say that my state was one of the first to allow gay marriage. If these people are happy and the kids are happy and well cared for, let them live in peace. I watch the show and they all seem to be happy and very honest about their feelings. They don't pretend it's all a bed of roses.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. donaldduck72

    This is what happens when gays are allowed to be married. One perversion after another.. will pedophiles be next in line?

    July 13, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • myweightinwords

      This has nothing to do with same gender marriage, other than the fact that the government should not have a say in who can be married to who, when all involved are consenting adults.

      Children can not give consent. Your argument is false.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Nonimus

      And yet again...
      gay and plural marriage is not the same as marrying children. Children are not capable of informed consent. Find a better argument.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • franny glass

      he won't here it folks. Why bother? Apparently consenting adults and children who are unable to consent are the same thing to right wing christians. Maybe that explains the priest problem?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Bullowknee

      Although children cannot give legal consent...trust me, when this is finished, they will argue that point in the court system next and have their own children beside them to do it. Our government needs to be involved when common decency, moral and good old fashioned "sense" has left the bedroom.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Rick

      Why is it opponents of plural marriage or gay marriage always fall back on the "will pedophiles/bestiality lovers be next?" line? It's clearly not in line with consenting adults entering into a relationship with one another, and it smacks of willful ignorance.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Peace2All


      You are talking about is the fallacious...'Slippery Slope' argument. It is a way for opponents of gay marriage, etc... and... other areas for that matter to try and argue this slippery slope tactic while using examples that are typically absurd. Which is a whole other fallacy as well.

      But, they are often used together as a means of really not thinking there position through, as they typically don't have a leg to stand on, so they resort to these types of absurd arguments.

      Does that help to shed some light on your question...?



      July 13, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Nonimus

      Trust you? Not likely. What are you basing this alarmist BS on?

      "Our government needs to be involved when common decency, moral and good old fashioned 'sense' has left the bedroom."
      Are you actually saying that the government needs to monitor what happens in our bedrooms? How else are they to know when 'sense' has left? Can you imagine to governmental organizations and personnel needed to implement what you are talking about? Oh, and based on the "leaks" from the airport full body scan images there will be a huge increase in government supplied por.nography.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  9. 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 so blessed and is stoned for this transgression showing yet again the terror that is Islam!!!


    July 13, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • franny glass



      July 13, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Ira

      1. Praise Allah.
      2. ????
      3. Profit!

      July 13, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  10. xtianchild

    Really I wonder why some Christians are upset about this when a majority of Christendom throughout the years has shown a great tolerance towards multiple divorce and re-marriage. Do you really have a leg to stand on when it comes to your position on polygamous marriage? The world laughs at us and we wonder why. This is precisely why I hold to the Bible as my guidebook. It has shown that having many wives ended up being nothing but trouble for the men mentioned already. Abraham fathered Ishmael from his maidservant(at his wife's promoting) who started the whole Islam against the Jews thing; Jacob had Rachel and Leah and the sons from one marriage ended up throwing their half brother Joseph into a well. David wanted women so much that he ended up murdering a husband to get his hot wife and brought the judgement of God. And it says that when Solomon was old his many wives tried to turn his heart to other gods... Multiple marriages, mistresses, whatever you want to call it, never seems to turn out the way mankind intended it to. And sometimes God does make bad things turn out good, but why would you want to try?

    July 13, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  11. Haime52

    God didn't create Adam and Eve, Pamela, Sarah, Corina, Carolyn, etc. And if a man can have multiple wives, can a woman have multiple husbands? Only seems fair! These people try to negate and subvert the Word, by using the commandments of MEN. They want to claim religion, but go contrary to the Bible they are supposed to uphold by using an addition to the Bible that is blatantly wrong because, in the Bible, it is clearly stated that no one is to add to or detract from it.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Nonimus

      I thought the Christian view was that God created everyone, including Carolyn, Pamela, etc.?

      "negate and subvert the Word"
      Who said anything about religion? I thought, this family was just saying they are being treated fairly as compared with people (e.g. hetero couples) cohabitating without being married. It happens all the time and they aren't charged with a crime.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Nonimus

      ^ should read "they aren't being treated fairly" ^

      July 13, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Kim

      It's obvious someone hasn't read the old testament where men have had anywhere from two wives up to a hundred. You can't say that the Bible makes it contradictory when in fact, the Bible fully supports polygamous marriages. And this isn't an argument of religion, this is a basic civil right to have their privacy and family life respected.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Jeff B.

      It's more than that, really.
      First, the same arguments that are used to allow gay marriage, should cover polygamous marriages; it is the SAME arguments re "choice" and "Privacy".
      Second, the notion of one man one woman is rooted biblically – in this country, there is a (supposed) separation between government and religion.
      Lastly, IF the polygamous families are only marrying "spiritually", there would be no legal marriage and thus, no polygamy.
      Next, they're going to want to make laws against adultery.
      Gov. needs to either get out of the bedroom totally, or stay in it...can have it both ways.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Haime52

      @ Nominus Evidently you didn't see where they stated it was their religion when they stated, "...living their lives according to their own beliefs," he said.

      I hope that all those who supported the gay agenda and said that granting gay marriage would have no effect on polygamy issues, take serious notice. Now they are asking why not allow this too. What's next? Bestial marriage? Child marriage? Group marriage?

      July 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  12. LetThemBe

    Men from inner city areas are allowed to have many babies with many different baby mamas and not pay support. Why isn't anyone up in arms about them? They ALL are on some type of state and federal aid...welfare...food stamps...medical assistance...education assistance...transportaion reimbursement...and so on. This story is about a successful family that makes what they have work. Let them be.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  13. Dale56

    Why is everyone apparently so upset with other people's marriages? Are yours that fragile you worry somehow that these people will cause yours to implode? Whether it be plural or gay as long as the participants are of legal age and willing then it's really no one else's business. It is their lives. You and I are not qualified to tell other folks how to live. We would ALL be much happier if we learned to live and let live.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  14. myweightinwords

    I am of the opinion that if all involved in the marriage are adult and consenting, the government should keep its overly large nose out of it. I even believe that there should be a way of making the "extra" relationships legally binding in some way. It doesn't have to be, and probably shouldn't be, the same as the "first" marriage, but there should be a way of providing some legal binding to protect all of the partners and any resulting children.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  15. lisa

    more welfare...one man can't possibly support children form 3 or 4 or more wives. Bunch of crap. We keep sending the wrong message to our daughters.

    July 13, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Ann

      How about YOU sending the wrong message that your Daughter cannot make her OWN living. He is not the only person bringing income into that family.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  16. Missouri Citizen

    To each their own lifestyle choice, if gays are together, why not this. They are not legally marrying more than one person. They simple act as a large family unit & if these women want to share one man, then that is their right to do so. There are so many couples raising children the wrong way & if they are all happy leave them alone for goodness sake. Look for rapists & murderers

    July 13, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  17. Haime52

    To all you who said that the gay agenda would NOT engender a fight for polygamists rights. Here it is! And what is the states overlying interest in whether or not anyone is in a plural marriage? If they get their way, will that mean women can have multiple husbands? What's next? Beastial marriage? Child marriage? Public nudity for nudist, that's their belief! Once pandora's box has been opened......

    July 13, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • myweightinwords


      You said, "To all you who said that the gay agenda would NOT engender a fight for polygamists rights. Here it is!">

      The only thing connecting same gender marriage and polygamy is that who a person loves is none of the government's business. Private relations between two or more adults are the business only of those adults, and any offspring that results.

      You also said, "And what is the states overlying interest in whether or not anyone is in a plural marriage? If they get their way, will that mean women can have multiple husbands?"

      Sure, why not? Love is love, and if the adults involved are willing and able to commit, what difference does it make to anyone other than them? And why limit the genders? Three husbands, four wives, two husbands and two wives. Are they supporting themselves? Are they good parents? Good spouses? Leave them be.

      And, "What's next? Beastial marriage? Child marriage? Public nudity for nudist, that's their belief! Once pandora's box has been opened......"

      Of course, you jump right from "consenting adults" into situations where one party is unable to consent. Bestiality and child marriage are unacceptable for the very simple reason that no animal nor child can give informed consent to the relationship. And as far as public nudity...well, there are places where nudists can be nude. Resorts, beaches, camp grounds. That argument is moot.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Nonimus

      The "slippery slope" argument is a logical fallacy.
      The difference between same-s.ex, plural, etc. marriage and bestiality or child abuse is one of consent. Animals and children are not capable of giving informed consent and therefore are not capable of entering into a contract like marriage. So, find a better argument.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • bla

      You are an idiot

      July 13, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  18. Minister of Mow

    "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.

    I think that NAMBLA said the exact same thing.

    July 13, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Nonimus

      NAMBLA, seriously?
      No one in this "marriage" or arrangement is under age. How does that compare to 'Man Boy Love' in NAMBLA?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  19. Melissa

    Plural families my ***. They are just trying to justify sleeping around. Disgusting that any woman would put up with being used this way.

    July 13, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Is it being used, if the woman loves her husband and loves his other wives and fully supports the idea of plural marriage?

      Is it being used if the choice is hers?

      Is it being used if the idea is hers?

      If I were ever to marry (and I doubt I will), it would have to be a polyamorous marriage, in which I had several partners. Nothing to do with being used, everything to do with being happy and satisfied.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Nonimus

      And you care, why?

      July 13, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  20. AllReligionIsEvilYouKnowItsTrue

    Who CARES who other people marry? It's ridiculous that the people on Maury can have kids with 4 or 5 different women, and that's cool, but these people have kids with multiple women and live with all of them – suddenly they're criminals? Ridiculous. Personally, it's unethical and against basic human freedom for the government to tell anyone they can't marry any other consenting human being(s). And it's everyone else's right not to like it. But to tolerate it because IT'S ACTUALLY NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS.

    July 13, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Missouri Citizen

      I agree!!! If their family is ok with such lifestyle & there is no harm or abuse then who cares. People need to calm down.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Haime52

      I agree that ANYONE who has kids with multiple women and doesn't support their kid is just plain wrong. However, the idea of a society which sanctions polygamy is just wrong on several levels. For one, if you had a lot of men doing this you would shrink the pool of available women for those who could not afford them or those men who were not good at wooing women. Also the risk of inbreeding becomes more of a problem with fewer men breeding with a lot of women. You already see that happening in some closed polygamist communities.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Nonimus

      Interesting. You think that there will be so many women interested in similar arrangements that it will significantly "shrink the pool of available women"? I'm not sure what kind of women you talk to but the ones I talk to probably wouldn't have anything to do with this kind of arrangement.

      July 13, 2011 at 11:27 am |
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About this blog

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.