Infamous reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his sister wives took to the steps of the Utah State Capitol to protest a proposed new anti-polygamy law in the state. Called House Bill 99, the new legislation would make it a felony for consenting adults to live with multiple people and pretend or “purport” to be married.
Utah’s antiquated polygamy laws, dating back to the state’s history as a Mormon theocracy (Mormon leader and first governor of the State Brigham Young famously had 55 wives to his name), were the primary reason that Kody Brown and his four sister wives fled the Lehi, Utah area when their television show Sister Wives began gaining attention. The Brown family claimed that, following the airing of the hit TLC show, Utah police began staking them out and otherwise harassing them for their polygamous lifestyle. (The State of Utah and the Mormon church were forced to publicly end polygamy as a condition of statehood.)
Ultimately, Kody Brown and his wives relocated to Las Vegas.
After moving out of the state, Kody Brown and his wives filed a lawsuit against the State of Utah, challenging its polygamy ban as it applies to consenting adults. The state has been under fire (and the source of finger-pointing, curiosity, and some outrage) in the midst of the Warren Jeffs, FLDS scandal. The so-called prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints became one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives in May of 2006.
As Rolling Stone reports, the fundamentalist Mormon leader was captured in August of 2006 and is now (after a lengthy and high-profile trial) serving a life sentence for multiple counts of child rape in connection with his many polygamist child brides. According to Kody Brown and his sister wives, the attention garnered by Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church (which is widely referred to as a “cult”) caused Utah to once again buckle down on public polygamy, despite the fact that it is practiced in the state among literally thousands of families.
According to Kody Brown, who spoke on behalf of himself and his wives, Utah should be focusing on the crimes that often occur in secretive polygamist sects and communities, such as child abuse, fraud, spousal abuse, sexual abuse and forced marriage. However, Mr. Brown believes that Utah law should leave consenting adult polygamists alone if they are in violation of no other laws.
“There’s thousands of polygamists, husbands and wives, consenting adults in this state, who they’re ignoring their need to be free as consenting adults. Once again, prosecute the real crime. Prosecute abuse, prosecute fraud, prosecute all these things that are there. Leave consenting adults alone.”
As Fox 13 Now reports, the sister wives and Kody Brown were able to achieve some initial legal success with their lawsuit against the State of Utah. Just a week before a separate federal judge put the brakes on Utah’s controversial same-sex marriage ban, calling it unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in favor of Kody Brown, his wives, and all Utah polygamists. He ruled on vital parts of Utah’s polygamy ban. Based on the judge’s ruling, it was no longer a criminal act to cohabitate with multiple people in Utah, even if you purported to be married to all of them.
According to Kody Brown and his sister wives, they won their case because they had the legal grounds to do so.
“We had grounds and we won on merit.”
The Brown family claimed that after they began participating in Sister Wives, effectively going public with their controversial lifestyle, the State of Utah focused directly on them. In the past, the state had had a practice of targeting polygamy situations involving minors. In the case of the Brown family, everyone involved in their plural marriage (of which only the first marriage was a “legal” marriage, with subsequent marriages being merely “spiritual”) was a consenting adult.
“I think that they just don’t understand the humanity of our situation, of the people that are living plural marriage. They see things through Warren Jeffs.”
Despite the legal victory won by Kody Brown and his wives in 2013, his victory over Utah polygamy law was to be short-lived. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reversed Judge Clark Waddoups’ ruling, citing that Kody Brown and his wives didn’t face the threat of prosecution under Utah law when they filed the suit.
The Brown family attempted to take their polygamy argument to the SCOTUS, but the court declined to hear the Sister Wives lawsuit in January. According to Kody Brown, his family has no plans to file further lawsuits in Utah regarding the state’s polygamy laws, adding that the state has publicly declared that it would leave him and his alone.
“They’ve told me that they’re leaving me alone. They’ve made that absolutely public.”
Even so, the Brown family won’t be moving back to Utah in the aftermath of their devastating polygamy lawsuit victory being reversed on appeal. Even so, Kody Brown and his sister wives are using their star power to advocate for their fellow polygamists in the state in an attempt to prevent persecution of consenting adults involved in plural marriages.
[Featured Image by Rick Bowmer/AP Images]