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Kody Brown and his four wives won't face bigamy charges after all.
Local Utah prosecutors announced Thursday that they won't pursue criminal charges against the polygamous family made famous by the TLC show Sister Wives. The announcement came as part of a filing in federal court by Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman asking a judge to dismiss the Brown family’s 2011 federal lawsuit against his office, which contends that the law against bigamy violates their constitutional rights.
Buhman also said that his office will adopt a new policy of not prosecuting polygamists for bigamy alone (a third-degree felony in Utah), a position already held by the state attorney general's office that has investigators more or less look the other way in such cases unless there is evidence of other crimes such as child abuse or welfare fraud.
The Browns practice polygamy as part of their religion, but Kody Brown is only legally married to one of his wives. Under Utah law, however, being married while living with another adult in a "marriage-like relationship" technically constitutes bigamy.
Utah authorities launched an investigation into Brown, his wives, and their sixteen children after their reality TV show first aired in 2010. Though no charges were ever brought, they moved to the Las Vegas area and countered the threat of prosecution with their lawsuit the following year.
Reuters explains that the case has far-reaching implications for the thousands of self-described fundamentalist Mormons in Utah who still practice polygamy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially disavowed plural marriage in 1890 under pressure from Congress, but some splinter groups that are no longer affiliated with the mainstream church have clung to the practice nonetheless.