When Kody Brown and his four wives agreed to star in a reality show about their polygamous lifestyle, they said they were doing it to fight societal prejudice. Now they’re fighting the law.
The family made famous by the TLC show Sister Wives is expected to file a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging Utah’s anti-bigamy law, which makes it a third-degree felony to marry or cohabit with someone other than one’s legal spouse. An attorney for the family said they’re not asking Utah to recognize polygamous marriage; they just want to be left alone.
The TLC show about the Browns and their 16 children – members of a Mormon fundamentalist church called the Apostolic United Brethren – was billed as a real-life version of the HBO series Big Love when it debuted last year. It sparked an investigation by Utah authorities, forcing the family to move to Nevada last year.
Attorney Jonathan Turley told the Associated Press that he believes the family’s case represents the strongest challenge to the criminalization of polygamy ever filed in federal courts. It builds on a 2003 case in which the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy laws as a violation of privacy. “We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs,” Brown said in the attorney’s statement.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially disavowed plural marriage in 1890 under pressure from Congress. The move cleared the way for Utah to become the nation’s 45th state six years later.
Mainstream Mormons consider the church’s anti-polygamy manifesto a matter of divine revelation, and those who violate it are excommunicated. But splinter groups, often referred to as Mormon fundamentalists though they’re no longer affiliated with the mainstream church, have clung to the practice.