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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. bfishy

    as long as a woman can have multiple husbands, then ok go for it.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • mry

      Except "cody" says thats icky.. He can't deal with his wives having another man...
      What a crock huh?
      This so called religion is a man's ultimate dream.. Keep having affairs and have the wife not only be OK but help you pay for the dates..~!! 🙂

      July 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Mick

      Dream?!? Look at these women! It's more like his nightmare...with every wife...
      1. Find a wife that you're attracted to
      2. Have kids with said wife
      3. Watch wife overeat during the pregnancy and never do anything to lose the weight after delivery
      4. Buy/Marry a new psycho woman who doesn't mind having other people he's screwing around
      5. Repeat

      July 13, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  2. Rich

    This is America, people should be free to live their lives however they want as long as they aren't hurting anyone else. In my opinion the government has no business regulating marriage at all anyway. Why should the government care about who marries who?

    July 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • mry

      Until one jealous wife looses it and goes ballistic.. Keep adding women and one will ..The odds are in favor of it~!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Gee

      What about the ones who want a one-o- one relationship? If you change the law to accept polygamy then how do you punish the cheaters where the spouse did not agree? It's reason for a fault divorce at the moment. What the government should stay out of is giving extra welfare for women who cannot identify the father and have, let's say, more than one child like that. (Making room for 1 mistake, so if you identify the first 4 fathers of your kids then the 5th would be okay as well, though I don't agree with folks having many children like that, or in a marriage but overpopulation is a separate topic.)

      July 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  3. Moo

    This country's laws towards polygamy has less to do with religion, and more to do with taxes to our government, because despite the fact that this country was founded on Christian principles, there is no way this country is a Christian nation anymore.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Yea

      That's why there has always been a separation of church and state, because left to the Christian church it would be all about prejudice beliefs against those that are different or don't share the same religious views. I am glad this isn't a Christian country! YeeHaw!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Loren

      It never *was* a Christian nation. Anyone who tells you that it is, is rewriting history.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • HW

      I like history when it is re-written to suit my purpose. You don't like it, write your own.

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

    The "argument" is one really of Governments(Corporations v Creators Government-heaven etc) and scripture true interpretation of 'Marriage or a Mans relations with woman.

    Scripture 'translators like the KJV bible changed words. The specific words are Isa:Virgin, Issa or Isha:Woman. Scripture says a man shall leave his mother and Father and shall cleave to his Isha(not wife) , yet the Isha was a woman who had a Dowry. This being different from the view of a Concubine(no dowery), The both could bear children from the onw mans seed – lineage, yet only the Wife was actually Married, the concubine did enter the relationship with the man with the 'knowing' of the wife, yet she was also one of he Isha or issa the Man had taken. Provided he could care for the Woman and children it was fine.
    King Solomon died in Sin and was chastised by the creator EHEYE ASHER EHYEH(I Am thet I Am) for having wives and concubines that brought Idols into the kings house – not for the many wives or concubines.

    After ll this occured history*Constantine created the Catholic(Universal) Church. All branches even Mormans are Catholics – wheather they choose to agree is not the point they do the same Catholic feast(not scriptural) like Christmsa(Christ's Mass) and Easter(Ishtar).
    The modern Governments use the word Wife – they are basically corporation Governments. The Woman should win this case since Corporations were created by Man(male and Female), governed by contracts Its not real difficult just read and don't translate names(1st rule of English or any other language).

    Isha does not mean Wife, it means woman. so let them be – they have the correct right to do what it is Scripture allows – its their freedom of 'religion" which Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free expression of. The Corporation by hearing the religion case has to allow this since – No state may enter any treaty(including with the corporation US) or law that impairs he obligation of contract – these worshipers have a Covenant contract with their creator. The court has to rule in their favor.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  5. Koushik

    Will it be ok if a Muslim guy in the USA wants to have more than one wife? Or will the religion card come into play then?

    July 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • HW

      The law of the land comes into play; nothing to do with religious edicts. The Browns believe that the State should not regulate marriage. One of the reasons, I believe, states got into the act is because of Taxes. I don't know if Utah has an personal income tax, but Texas does not. And, I have no idea what the state of Texas dictates in terms of polygamy.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Gwen

      Most modern Muslims do not follow polygamy (probably for the reasons stated in the nearby comments about multiple PMS). The Koran, I believe, limits a man to at most 4 wives and he must be able to provide for all of them AND all of the children by them. I think there is also a passage on treating them and their children fairly.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • mry

      GWEN

      This guy isn't supporting all his wives.. A couple work.. He is a looser..

      July 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  6. robyn - sister wife #4

    the only reason i married him was to get on the show and be famous.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  7. mry

    These four women make me so angry..
    If they were truly loving this situation it would be fine.. But they aren't.. They stay upset, jealous and dealing with issues constantly over the absurdity of trying to share one man..
    And he's not much of one either.. He acted like a school boy in love with the last wife. It was disgusting watching his other wives help him go on a "date"..YUCK..
    They are brain washed by a religion made by men for men..
    They need to dump this looser and find a man they can call thier own..

    July 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • HW

      So you have watched this trashy show. I did not even know it existed.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • mry

      HW..

      I saw a preview of the women crying when he started dating this last one.. And watched a few.. It is disgusting..
      The last wife is more sickening than the rest. Like he nasty little mistress, who knows she has the edge over the others..
      And it's obvious she does.. for now.. I suspect when he gets bored of her, he will be off acting like a school boy again and they will all have to go through emotional hell again..
      they are just brains washed women, willing ot go along with a doctrine men made up... For their own enjoyment...
      Yuck

      July 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • News Flash

      This is nothing new. When old Joe Smith decided to marry his wife's friends, she was pretty ticked off too.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  8. tj-lo

    Well I say leagalize polygamy it isn't as nasty as two guys being able to be leagally married! If we are truely going to not discrimate it has to be all in! I don't agree with any of the liberal thinking, but apparently they get to discriminate and it's okay! Sounds complicated right? That's what happens when we stray from the boundries that this country was founded on.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • HW

      HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF SPELL CHECKER?

      July 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • OH

      You mean that people should have equal civil rights and yes that is what our country is founded on, not prejudice like yours.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • al

      yeah imagin tht a guy can mary a guy and a gal can mary a gal but polygamy (man having more than one wife) is wrong. i say ppl (men and women) who want polygamy let em do it y shud govt step in their business.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  9. HW

    Personally there is nothing more desirous than having more than one wife. I believe in plurarism. The issue I would be against is that the head of household would be able to claim multiple dependents; from an economic point I see this as taking advantage of other taxpayers. As long as they are not allowed the multiple deductions hey I say bring it on. No problem.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Robert

      I am not sure how that is different from people who have married, divorced, and re-married claiming their children from both marriages as dependents.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • HW

      Please review IRS status on dependents. I agree multiple divorces with multple children can be claimed as dependents. Divorced wifes cannot be claimed as dependents; even alimony is not allowed to be deducted. However, if one can legally have multple partners sanctioned by Federal or State status, then the issue of multiple dependents becomes murky.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Robert

      But wouldn't someone claiming you as a dependent prevent you from claiming your one exemption? Sort of comes out the same in the long run.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • HW

      If someone claims me as a dependent in their 1040, I cannot claim myself. However, that was not my issue. As long as there is some kind of limitation on dependency which I cannot take advatange than polygamy would be a great tax loophole. A lot of people would be unable to take advantage of that. Single people pay a greater share of tax than married ones. I believe that to be very unfair.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Robert

      Yeah the marriage bonus is inherently unfair but I can't really see that allowing polygamy would increase the number of people that get married for tax purposes. It isn't like monogamy is a great barrier to that.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • HW

      If someone claims me as a dependent in their 1040, I cannot claim myself. However, that was not my issue. As long as there is some kind of limitation on dependency which I cannot take advatange than polygamy would be a great tax loophole. A lot of people would be unable to take advantage of that. Single people pay a greater share of tax than married ones. I believe that to be very unfair.................

      July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Zeeman

    Why can't women have multiple husbands? All those honey-do lists....

    July 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • tj-lo

      Good point, but no!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • driranek

      It's called polyandry and it has been known to happen on an informal basis.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  11. yuppers

    Aaaaand the degradation of our society continues......liberals will ruin this country, go ahead and criticize me, you're blind now but one day you'll see.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Lori

      Polygamists are probably more likely to be conservatives but whatever helps you categorize the world in a way that makes sense to you.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • yuppers

      Thanks lori, your thoughtful provoking insight really opened up my mind. Can you honestly say that growing up with one mother & one father is not ideal? Obviously many children can, and do, grow up fine w a single parent or maybe in a situation like this, but it absoluteely creates unnecessary issues and emotional damage which we should strive to aviod.

      Bring it on libtards.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Lori

      Your issue seems to be more with the number of parents involved rather than the political alignment of the people supporting one side or another or perhaps you are one of those people that just uses strawman fallacies to blame a group you don't like for everything wrong with your life and the world.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • yuppers

      wow, once again you're just right on target lori, how oh how did you get so smart? time to get out of my cubicle and go home to my mystical thinking of this world.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Wow

      "Obviously many children can, and do, grow up fine w a single parent or maybe in a situation like this, but it absoluteely creates unnecessary issues and emotional damage which we should strive to aviod."

      Your view of the world is really warped and prejudice. There are many children who were raised by a mother and father and have sever emotional baggage from it. You need to go down to your local DHS and have a reality check, the best kept secret in our society is in protecting the privacy of the children the parents are protected too. The stories are horrific!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  12. Jake

    You know, people who oppose gay marriage usually make the argument that if we accept gay marriage then we will eventually accept polygamy as well. Most Americans still oppose polygamy while roughly 50% support gay marriage. To accept one forces you to accept the other. If someone does accept or at least tolerate both then I have no problem with them. Or even if they reject both. But for Americans to think gay marriage is ok and somehow polygamy isn't is wrong. Support both or reject both, anything less is simply hypocritical.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Guest

      I disagree; gay marriage has been widely debated and i have yet to hear one valid reason (other than the person, or god, or whatever doesn't like it) why it should be any of the government's business, or what governmental interest is being compromised by allowing it. Polygamy has not been subject to the same scrutiny; while I doubt a valid interest of the government is compromised by it, I do think the debate should be had before a final decision is made.

      Of course, what's going on here is not polygamy; he is only married to one of the women; the rest are his lovers–but the government seems to be upset that they call themselves his "spritual wives". No different from adultery, and when's the last time someone was prosecuted for that?

      July 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • tj-lo

      Yep!!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Ian

      why does what other fully grown consenting adults choose to do with their lives add to the degradation of society?

      I hear people on this site scream venom from both sides... (liberals this conservative that)

      your political party, your religious views... your nit picky likes and dislikes SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH OTHER PEOPLES LIVES.

      Stop it

      July 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Gwen

      Marriage equality is about ONE man and ONE man or ONE woman and ONE woman vowing fidelity and love til death do they part. Polygamy is a threat to ALL marriages. The "family" shown on TLC is not a plural marriage. It is some guy that convinced a bunch of stupid women to shack up with him. If they weren't white, it wouldn't be a show. It would be an episode of Law and Order. The fact that they aren't "seeking multiple marriage licenses" suggests that the commitment legally is too much. If they are so sure of their rights then why not make it legal? On the other hand, I sure wouldn't want to get stuck with all those other women's brats if the man kicks the bucket.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Gee

      Gwen,

      Amen!

      July 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  13. jer

    "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."

    If this is the case, why? WHY? would you be dumb enough to put yourselves on TV.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gwen

      I personally think that this idiot is the male equivalent of Michelle Bachmann. Maybe our Founding Fathers were fighting for the right to have multiple wives as well...

      July 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  14. yuppers

    and the degradation of our society continues......liberals will ruin this country, go ahead and criticize me, you're blind now but one day you'll see.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Guest

      and allowing these people to live together "ruins" the country how?

      July 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • driranek

      Isn't Utah about the most 'conservative' state there is? How do liberals become the problem? This comes across like some republizombie mindlessly regurgitating the party line.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Crazy

    4X the nagging? wow

    Notice how the women stand ranked worst to best in the picture.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Mick

      YES!!! 🙂

      July 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Student of World Religions

      PMS x 4 = HELL!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Mick

    So they're arranged heaviest to lightest? bahahahah

    July 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Normon

      They're also arranged shortest to tallest and blondest to least blond. What's up with that?

      July 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • alecia haynes

      haha.. the last one is the trophy wife!

      July 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  17. James Dobson is the Devil

    I find it funny that this guy has 3 obese (morbidly) wives and his newest is actually fairly decent looking. He needs to take out the trash and ditch those overweight slobs. Sister wives...what a joke.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • cindy

      You are disgusting & pathetic. Get over yourself. So what if they are overweight. You probably are to. That has nothing to do with it. If they love each other. It has nothing to do with it. They should be happy. Yes it is wrong no matter what state you are it. & should rott in jail for it.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • StoopidIzAzStoopidDuz

      Not all 3 of the over weight ones are "morbidly obese." I would say the one on the left is, next to her is borderline, but the second from the right is not.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • driranek

      Perhaps they're pregnant? The PMSx4=HELL comment is nothing compared to feeding, changing, and cleaning up after 4 simultaneous rug rats. Just wait till high school when they all want to borrow the car... a monestary is gonna start lookin' real good.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Gee

      Give the last one a few years and they all will look he same. Then it's only 4x the nagging

      July 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  18. Lisa G

    Who cares?!?!? As long as everybody is of legal age and able to consent shouldn't we celebrate love? Before I saw this show I had a somewhat negative opinion of people with multiple spouses. However, after watching it, I can see that they are normal in so many ways and really seem like decent people that just want to be happy. I say more power to them! Our laws should be changed so people that love each other can be together ( as long as every is of age and consenting).

    July 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • yuppers

      if you can't tell by watching the show that this guy is extremely weird then you are just as weird.

      July 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Gee

      And that is part of the objective. By putting this crap on TV seems to make that behavior more acceptable. Desensitization but keep on watching...

      July 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  19. Michele

    Way to go Brown family! Let us know how we can help!

    July 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  20. Guest

    Sherrell–Ok Adam had 1 wife; what about the great and wise king Solomon (didn't he even write a book of the bible? Adam didn't)? Hundreds, as i recall, not to mention his concubines (like the Queen of Sheba)

    July 12, 2011 at 5:14 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.