'Sister Wives' stars sue over Utah anti-polygamy law
Kody Brown and his four wives.
July 13th, 2011
08:46 PM ET

'Sister Wives' stars sue over Utah anti-polygamy law

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - The stars of TLC's "Sister Wives" reality show sued Utah's governor Wednesday, asking a judge to block the state's long-standing law against polygamy.

The suit, filed in federal court on behalf of Kody Brown and his four wives, argues that Utah's restrictions are unconstitutional.

"By criminalizing religious-based plural families and intimate relationships under the criminal bigamy law, Utah officials prosecute private conduct between consenting adults," the lawsuit says.

In a statement posted on his attorney's website, Brown said he and his family "only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs," adding they are ready for what could be a long legal battle.

"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," he said.

Bigamy is a third-degree felony with a potential penalty of up to 15 years in prison, Utah Attorney General's Office spokesman Paul Murphy told CNN Tuesday. Officials first enacted the law in the 1890s and the Utah Constitution also forbids polygamy. Both steps were required conditions for Utah to become a state, he 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," Murphy said.

But after filing the lawsuit, attorney Jonathan Turley told reporters that polygamy also has deep roots.

"Polygamy, whether you like it or not, is a deep-seated religious belief. It has been present in this country since the founding of the republic and before," said Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

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.

Turley told reporters that his clients are not criminals and stressed that they are not seeking marriage licenses.

"There are no crimes in this case," he said. "There is simply a family that is different from other families."

In a statement on his website, Turley said the lawsuit is "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."

Utah is the base of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, and it has a history of polygamy. Although the church renounced the practice more than a century ago, offshoots of mainstream Mormonism still engage in the practice.

"They are subject to criminal prosecution ... solely because they call themselves a family in the eyes of their church," the lawsuit says.

Millions of people have tuned in to watch "Sister Wives" since it began airing on TLC in 2010, the network said.

The show documents the lives of Brown, his four wives and 16 children. The family has moved from Utah and now lives in Nevada, a TLC spokeswoman said.

The week the show first aired, police in Utah said they were investigating the family and would forward evidence to state prosecutors.

"When we decided to do this show, we knew there would be risks," the family said in a statement at the time. "But for the sake of our family, and most importantly, our kids, we felt it was a risk worth taking."

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Science

    At its best here and peer reviewed .No go-d(s) required. Proven right here on this tread!!!


    January 18, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  2. Ron

    I wonder how long before the President announces that he has had another epiphany and comes out in favor of polygamy?
    Oh, wait, I just remembered, he can only serve two terms, so I guess he wont. I can't believe the ACLU and the icons of the retard neo-lib left, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and her mentor Ed Schultz have not come out in their defense??

    January 18, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • tallulah13

      Your candidate lost, Ron. Deal with it.

      January 18, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  3. Women's Fib

    This law was enacted to protect the women and the children from polygamous marriages and prevent the abuses. Women without legal marriages have no claim to the family's financial and inheritance rights for themselves or their children. Polygamist marriages are ruled by men, and take advantage of women and their children. Some of these men do not, cannot, and will not take responsibility financially or emotionally for raising their 12, 13, and more children. The taxpayers of the US cannot afford to finance these "families". This so-called violation of Kody Brown's rights is similar to the woman who sued for religious reasons because she wanted her drivers license picture taken with a veil hiding her face. If Kody Brown does not like the laws here let him move to another other country and see if he can soak their welfare system.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  4. Brooklyn Urso

    Hah, Italy demonstrators rally against Berlusconi

    December 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    I don't care what they do behind closed doors – I care that they can support all the mouths they create. Have you heard of "Bleed the Beast?" That's their motto – and they typically are on public assistance. That is ridiculous. In my opinion, Gay Marriage is fine. I don't want Christian or any religion to be the basis of my law. What I want is responsible, hard working ethics. I wish I could afford another child, but that would be irresponsible of me, and I am upper middle class. If he can't pay for four wives and 18 or whatever children, he shouldn't be allowed to have them. Public assistance is there for when someone is down and out and needs help to get back on their feet. It shouldn't be abused.

    November 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  6. AK

    With the forefront acculturation of gay marriage is this any surprise? That old 'slippery slope' thing....and no pun intended.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  7. AvdBerg

    By reading the comments on this Blog it seems very obvious to us that all the foundations of the earth are as shown on our website http://www.gaychristian101.com

    See us as we ride our gay turttles. http://www.gaychristian101.com

    Please ignore any messages that inform you that we are on a troll and that ask you to activate the abuse button or even refer you to a non-gaychristian website. It is an attempt to discredit the work of our organs, which is for the edifying of the Body of Us– (Esoph. 4:12).

    July 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      Keep it up lol

      July 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  8. ForestSound

    Marriage of one man and one woman is God's design and Jesus' command/standard. (Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19, Mark 10) Everything else is morally wrong. It's true a primitive man wants to keep many women for himself, but a faithful, decent man loves one woman and keeps her only for lifetime.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • Saya

      As a non-Christian your Christian beliefs have no effect on me. As an American it is my right to live free of being forced to obey Christian law. Take your god out of it and tell me why polygamy is wrong. You can't use an example of underage girls being forced into marriage because that SHOULD be illegal. Tell me why, without invoking your god, consenting adults are not free to live their lives as they please so long as they don't hurt anyone else.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • weewee

      who cares?

      September 22, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  9. M Burke

    If 'gay marriage' is acceptable simply on the basis of 'love', there's no reason to deny this or any other sort of wacky relationships.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  10. autumn

    If polygamy is to be deemed acceptable, then women should also be allowed to take more than one husband. If it is to be only men taking more than one spouse, then this is nothing more than another example of men conveniently using the name of religion to dominate and feel superior to women. That to me is not religion – it is disgusting!

    July 16, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Audrey

      Amen! 🙂

      July 20, 2011 at 6:34 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.