'Sister Wives' TV family challenges Utah's bigamy law

Kody Brown with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine and Meri Brown and Robyn Sullivan in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show "Sister Wives." Credit: TLC

Kody Brown, his four wives and their very large brood of children have used their TLC reality television show “Sister Wives” to defend their polygamous lifestyle. The bigamy probe that followed the show's debut has been less welcome.

After the first “Sister Wives” episode aired, Brown said, police in his hometown of Lehi, Utah, announced that his family was under investigation for bigamy. Brown said in court papers that the repercussions were devastating. Meri Brown said she was fired from her job at a residential treatment center. Robyn Sullivan’s weight “dropped dangerously," her husband said.

The Brown clan is challenging Utah’s bigamy law in federal court, saying the family moved to Nevada earlier this year because it feared prosecution for so-called "plural marriage."

State attorneys in Utah have said the Brown family likely wouldn’t have faced charges and could not show that the law had actually harmed them, the Associated Press reported. In fact, an estimated 30,000 polygamists live in Utah and none is being prosecuted for bigamy, state officials said in court papers.

The Brown family sees things far differently.

Kody Brown is officially married to Meri Brown, but says he is also spiritually married to Janelle Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan. They are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, a fundamentalist offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which disavowed polygamy long ago.

Kody Brown said in court papers that before he and his family signed up for the TV show, he  approached Utah officials in Salt Lake City during the 2009 Legislative Education Day for Fundamentalist Mormons. Brown said he was told “I would not be prosecuted unless I was committing crimes such as marrying child brides, promoting incestuous relationships, or committing welfare or tax fraud.”

No charges were ever filed against the Brown family, though its members say their lives were disrupted all the same.

“The coercive effect on the entire family was so pronounced that any appearance of a police cruiser on our street became a matter of alarm — not knowing whether prosecutors had chosen this moment to break up our family and arrest some or all of the adults,” Kody Brown said in court papers.

And once the family moved to Las Vegas, he said, the publicity surrounding the family made it difficult for the adults to find jobs.

RELATED:

Legalize polygamy?

Television review: ‘Sister Wives’

TLC's 'Sister Wives' reality show will document a polygamist family

— Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photo: Kody Brown with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine and Meri Brown and Robyn Sullivan in a promotional photo for TLC's reality TV show "Sister Wives." Credit: TLC

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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