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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. Student of World Religions

    This is not the only religion that practices polygamy. Muslim men are allowed to marry two, three, or four wives, according to sura 4:3. Western women who marry Muslim men often discover that their husbands have other wives overseas. Such is a common practice of Muslim men living in Western countries with laws regarding polygamy. Western women are usually naïve about Islamic teachings and practices concerning wives, women, and marriage, or they are certain that such teachings would not be followed by the man they come to know and love.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Lela

      Maybe Mr.Brown should move with his wives to Dubai. Then, let's watch the show from there. Would be less interesting, don't you think? A sort of "who cares"...."so what?" He has 4 wives..... NEXT!

      July 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Banwari

      What an amazing story .i siengd up to be a donor after my mom passed away from multiple myloma. God bless you and your family!

      March 2, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  2. Bruce

    Polygamy is just divorce and remarriage with half the paperwork.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  3. driranek

    I'd have no problem with polygamy provided polyandry is also allowed. After all, it's not much of a free country when govt busybodies can stick their nose into your lovelife, so to speak.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  4. Sherri

    I have watched this show and I feel really bad for the wives because Cody is so selfish. His one wife Christine just had a baby and off he was on a honeymoon for two weeks with his new wife. He is a self absorbed narcissist.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  5. Gary

    What I don't get is why don't these polygamist just legally marry one women and then just "spiritually" marry the rest because it is only against the law to illegally marry more than one woman correct? What is wrong with being "spiritually" or "religiously" married to more than one woman? As long as it doesn't hurt anyone and it is not like all these people are stealing government benefits that they earn by paying taxes.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Sarah

      He is only legally married to his first wife, but they are trying to investigate their lifestyle.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  6. deandake

    Funny how the mormons were the largest supplier of funds for California's Prop 8 in their quest to "save marriage". Now this? Where is the outrage from Utah now?

    July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  7. marcia

    First off...polygamy aside...who would want to marry this creepy ugly man! I guess,just women who couldn't get a cow to look at them! Carry on lunatics!

    July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Really?

      The women are no prize either.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  8. Haifever

    He had to leave the playground because he couldn't follow the rules, and now they're whining about playground management. Grow up, guys, you don't like the rules, stay out of the state. A whole state doesn't change laws because one 'family' got their feelings hurt.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Toni

    Gay can get get married but a man who takes more than one wife goes to jail.
    What a law. Long as the people invole are happy, let them be.
    This might be the solution to all these Single parentwood.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Twm

      I must have used a bad keyword, i was send to be moderated:
      Polygamy is way better than gay marriages. At least the polygamists are staying true to nature's intent. Gays are just deviants that must have had a bad encounter with one of the opposite gender to make them rebel against what is natures guideline. Sick people, they need to develop a cure not allow them to get married.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Andrea M

    The government shouldn't have any place in the private love lives of any consenting adults, end of story. Gay, straight, polygamous, whatever. As long as all parties are over 18 and fully consenting human beings, there is simply no reason for the government to be peeking through the keyhole. If the family wins, it could also be an interesting step in the right direction for gay marriage.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Lela

      What will happen if people want to marry animals? Will you only THEN disagree? GEEEEEZ.....

      July 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Rick

      Lela: Interesting how you go right to the beastiality.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  11. WooHoo!

    What I cannot figure for the life of me is why some guy would want 4 women yelling at him to take out the trash.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Joe B.

      Or four mother-in-laws.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • driranek

      Now if polyandry were allowed you might have one woman yelling at four men to take out the trash. This might boost the odds of the trash actually being taken out to at least 10%.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  12. CT resident

    If this country can legalize gay marriage, I don't see why polygamy can"t be. I don't agree with this lifstyle at all,but it's not for me to judge.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  13. jessicaber

    It is like a soap opera, but I guess who ever said that is right. There is a lot of selfishness involved.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. Maz

    I really like this show. It is very telling to me that the wives seem to have a better relationship with each other than they do with their husband. I would rather be in a marraige like this than in one where my spouse sneaks around cheating on me for 20 years and has a secret family.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  15. Sue IL

    Who is paying the bills??? UNCLE SAM (meaning YOU!!!!)???? Who supplies the health insurance for these people and the children???? (THE STATE)?????? These questions were not answered on the reality tv show!!! Who handles the checkbook????? Who is going to provide the college education, the STATE????? Where is the real REALITY??????

    July 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Bruce

      Sue, you have a few extra question marks and exclamation points. I can't figure out if this is more annoying, or using caps lock is. Hmmm...

      July 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Reality Check

      Take a deep breath Sue. They have their own insurance...it was dealt with on the show. They pay their own bills as also show on the T.V. show. Uncle Sam isn't paying a thing. But, why are you okay with poor men that have 5 children from 4 women, but this guy that pays his own way you appear irrational?

      July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Daniel

      I wouldn't worry to much about college Sue. It is obvious you have never been there. Do everyone a favor and keep your ignorant and unintelligent comments to yourself. If you don't know what you are talking about, don't say anything. Why not research the questions your asking. You will find the facts show "plural" families are less of a burden on their local, state and federal governments than other people with multiple kids. Welfare babies are much more common in places like Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • RELAX

      Uncle Sam pays the bills for what? Pretty sure they are paying their own bills. How in any way does this affect your personal life? I don't think what they are doing is right by god, but the bottom line is that it does not effect me or my family so I don't care, let them do what they want.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Dawn

      Sue, you really dont know anything now do you?

      July 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  16. Lela

    You can do whatever you want and this is a free country and 1st ammendment and blah blah blah.....I agree..... Just DONT change the definition of marriage and ruine the sacrement by re-defining it. Live with whoever you please, raise your kids however you like....just don't put it in my face because I dont wish to live my life as you do. This is between you and & your god or gods.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Peter

      "Just DONT change the definition of marriage and ruine the sacrement by re-defining it."

      Too late gays can marry already in several states.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • WooHoo!

      You are one sad individual if you think that granting marriage to plural families is throwing it your face.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Lela

      Yup.... that's why our country is going DOWN..... don't get me started on gay "unions".

      July 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Lela

      I am very sad that people like this are ruining what we call morals and values. I am even more sad when I know people who agree with them, like you, exist!

      July 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bruce

      No, Lela–marriage is not a sacrament. It's not between the individuals and their god(s). It's between the family and the state, and it involves tons of tons of legislation concerning family law.

      If the state was the Church you might have a point, but the state is not the Church.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • WooHoo!

      WOW Lela you are an idiot. Please do not have children. Your DNA needs to be removed from the gene pool forever.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Reality Check

      "Traditional Marriage" was one man to many women.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Peter

      "I am very sad that people like this are ruining what we call morals and values"

      As for gay unions it's about civil rights and the fact you don't believe that fits into doing what is morally right makes you pitiful and you don't belong in this country.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Rick

      Lela: If it is a "sacrament", then take it out of the hands of government. If it is a license granted by the state, the state cannot discriminate.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  17. MMMKAY

    I really don't care about his marriage(s) or if Utah legalizes pluralized unions... but for the love of all things holy will someone PLEASE CUT HIS HAIR?

    July 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Reality Check

      I like his hair.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Bruce

      It's as close to a mullet as one can get without actually having a mullet.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Dawn

      LOL

      July 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  18. Angela

    I have watched this show a number of times and although I love Kody and all his wives I can not embrace Kody's selfish ism. In one show Kody's first wife admits to being jealous when Kody wants to take another wife. She asks him how he would feel if it were her who wanted to add a man to the family. He did not like that Idea. As it tends to be with Men they want there cake and eat it too but do not want the same for the women in their lives. Kody has said that love should be "multiplied". Yet his behaviors does not reflect love for his first and only real wife it reflects only a selfish ego.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  19. jessicaber

    I like this family a lot and maybe it is just something wrong with my own brain and my own life being in disarray, but they remind me of my innocent relationship with my neighbor and his wife in some ways. I am a single mom and my son Ezra's adores the little girl next door. Ezra and this girl have been friends since they were 1 year old and they are 5 and 6 years old now. The little girl's parents both work, the father part time I suspect and the mother full time as a nurse at a local "rehab" for mostly senior citizens. It is like a short term nursing home. Some people do not make it back home, but that is what they hope for. I have seen her at work when I was visiting a woman from my LDS Church ward who has since passed away. I think that she was in he 80's when she died. Anyway, I know that it looked like a tough job to me and she has done it "tirelessly" for years. This couple (my neighbors) they have 6 children and the oldest is 21 and pregnant and the father of her soon to be baby boy who is due in October lives with the grandmother who is in the other half of the duplex that they live in and it looks to me that they own the Victorian house (duplex) that they live in. The school aged children are all active in public school and we live in a district in Vermont that I feel safe saying has one of the top public school systems in the country. Ever since I moved to a near by town with my parents when I was in the 5th grade this school system has reminded me of the "private school" of public schools. There are tennis courts with light and the girls used to play with skirts on in...in the evening we would see them if we were driving by. My school never had tennis courts. Ezra kindergarten class used to go on a class hike once or twice a month, even in the winter.
    So my neighbors though are just very busy like that and they have welcomed for the most part my help with their little girl that my son is so close to. She is usually at my apartment or maybe at another child's that she and Ezra are friends with with me or going for a walk with us or at a public playground. We have cooked, carved pumpkins, done art work, they dance, listen to music, play emulate school, they love water balloons, bike riding, together, etc. In that way I have been like an unofficial and unthanked nanny to her. I often wonder how I have come to be in this position. They do not have Ezra over to their place unsupervised very often. I can think of one maybe 2 times when they have in 5 years.
    The mother is very over weight and I have heard her say that lately her equillibrium is off. I wish her good health and a healthy marriage, but I will be honest I find her husband attractive.
    I have no desire to break up a marriage. I have my heart set on my ex-fiance from years ago who is the best man for me and my children, but I have had passing thoughts about whether or not she might want my help with her kids if something ever does happen to her. One of her daughters who will be in middle school this fall I bet is a great friend of my. Well, I enjoy her very much. She feels like a kindred spirit to me. I have enjoyed cooking with her and I have learned from her. She pokes and prods at my life in a way that is useful and helpful to me. I do not have any trouble at all helping out. It is a second step for me.
    In that way this shows has mirrored my life for me. I am sure that it is because I am a real Latter Day Saint that I have had thoughts like this, with The LDS Church's history of polygamy.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Lela

      You should offer to babysit..... not break up a marriage. LOL.... how dumb are people nowadays?

      July 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Sherri

      I really don't understand what your story has to do with polygamy. All I got from your ramblings was that you covet your neighbours husband.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Lela

      Which we will probably re-define as a 1st ammendment right (coveting thy neighbours wife/husband) and we will not call it a SIN..... the way people are "thinking" these days.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Rick

      "how dumb are people nowadays?"

      Don't know, Lela, but you seem to be pushing the envelope

      July 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • grassisbrown

      Girl, get a grip and go and find your own man – Loving your neighbor (in that way) was not the intention of the 10 commandments. You are so confused and desperate – Stay away and let that woman have her hubby in peace – without you all up in that house thinking nasty thoughts. You need to recognize that he married HER – Keep your legs closed and leave them alone. Thank you.
      Find love God's way. Geeeze.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Lela

      Sorry but i am just fed up..... I wish people didn't always have to push the envelope when it comes to our set of beliefs. Don't you think coveting a neighbours wife or husband is a sin?

      July 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. ann

    I feel that so long as the people are all consenting adults then we shouldn't be wasting time and money chasing after this. They don't even seem to be arguing for the right to legally marry each other, they just want to be able to live together as a family without someone arresting them. Even though I personally would never even consider a plural marriage, I do not see how this is any of the governments business.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Cari

      @ann I completely and totaly agree just let them be

      July 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • JGravy

      Exactly!!! They are not out hurting people, let them live their lives the way the want.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • s

      Ann,

      You say that you would never participate in such an arrangement.

      Let's play "pretend". You marry Tom. Tom turns out to be not such a great guy. You & Tom divorce because he is having an affair. Tom claims that he is not having an affair, and that you actually agreed that he could have a "spiritual" wife. At your child's custody hearing, his "wife" claims that she should be recognized as a "third parent".

      We get to live in a society that permits plural marriage. Or we get to live in a society that does not permit plural marriage. Pick one. But let's stop pretending that Kody Brown's actions only affect him and his "family".

      July 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
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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.