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Mormon Fundamentalist “Sister Wives” Challenge Utah Bigamy Law

Mormon Fundamentalist “Sister Wives” Challenge Utah Bigamy Law

Just days after New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan ominously predicted that after gay marriage was legalized, polygamy would be next, an Mormon family in Utah (who happen to be reality TV stars) announced that they will file a lawsuit against Utah’s anti-bigamy law in federal court. The Brown family, which consists of a husband, four wives, and sixteen children, claim that the law is unconstitutional.

Currently, the husband, Koby Brown, is legally married to only one wife, Meri.  The other three (Janelle, Christine, and Robyn) are his “spiritual wives.”  But the family still ran afoul of Utah’s anti-bigamy law, which makes marriage to more than one person a third-degree felony.  Because the law can also be applied to cohabitation, the Browns were forced to move to Nevada earlier this year after Utah County prosecutors launched an investigation.  No charges have yet been filed; prosecutors say they’ll decide whether to bring charges in the next few weeks.

The family is the subject of a TLC reality show, Sister Wives, which made its debut last September.  Although drawing attention to their family in such a public way was risky, the Browns felt they had to show that a polygamous lifestyle was not so bizarre.  ”It’s OK for us to live this way, honestly,” said Robyn Brown. “I’m sorry — but this is a nation of freedom of choice. We should have this choice, and I want my kids to know that.”

The Browns’ lawyer, Jonathan Turley, says that the state is unfairly prosecuting a law-abiding family for a private, religiously-based living arrangement.  He cites the 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, in which the court ruled that the state could not prosecute people for private, consensual sexual behavior (in this case, gay sex).

Naturally, the same people who Dolan used to back up his argument about the looming threats to marriage are speaking out about this case as well. “State laws to protect public morality by prohibiting what have been regarded as immoral sexual conduct just can’t stand constitutional scrutiny,” explained conservative constitutional law professor Robert George, who is affiliated with the infamous National Organization for Marriage. “So, if they accept the logic of their own principles, then Turley is going to win this in a knockdown.”

Of course, there are significant differences – one of the most serious concerns with legalizing polygamous relationships in any form is the frequency with which underage girls are brought into partnerships with much older men.  When fundamentalist Mormons talk about “polygamy,” they really mean “polygyny,” or the marriage of many women to one man.  Experts claim that this form of polygamy, which emphasizes male dominance over women, is often harmful to women and children.  These are separate issues than whether two consenting adults can participate in a sexual relationship, or if these same adults have the right to marry, regardless of their gender.

This case is unlikely to get far, according to experts.  But it’s worth noting because of the enthusiasm with which same-sex marriage’s opponents use polygamy as a dire “next step.”  Regulating “immoral” sexual behavior is a complex matter, and polygamy is a challenging issues, especially as polyamorous living arrangements slowly become more mainstream.  But there are still serious concerns with polygamy, especially as practiced by fundamentalist Mormons, which are not going to go away just because two men in New York can now marry.

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Photo from kenlund via flickr.

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94 comments

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9:30AM PST on Nov 29, 2011

I love how people always cite older men marrying underage girls.
If this WAS legal, underage girls STILL can't legally get married! Stipulate that the parties must be legally able to consent - hell, make it twenty-one like alcohol - and guess what? No girls harmed in the making of this law.
Idiots.

10:35AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Polygamy was not condemned anywhere in the Bible, though in the NT, a qualification for deacon and elder was to have just ONE wife, probably due to the time it takes to earn a living and tend to the needs of more than one spousal relationship, and presumably, a lot more children than most monogamous couples have. What time would be left to serve others in the church - without shortchanging the relationships one has already committed to?

As for Solomon and David - having multiple wives was not only distracting, but divisive, as the foreign wives brought their religions with them.

10:24AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

While I don't think polygamy is ideal, and - like any relationship - is vulnerable to abuses, the Brown Poly household seems loving, caring, and all of the adults involved have willingly chosen the lifestyle, and have chosen to work out their differences in peaceful ways, and to be conscientious parents.

There are a lot of monogamous relationships that are lacking those qualities, not to mention the "serial monogamy" that seems to be in fashion.

5:01AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Sick! In many polygamous situations very often the one husband is unable to support many wives and all their children. One instance I read about there were 9 wives who each had many children! These families live in sad poverty. The children that go to schools are told to use other names so the officials won't find out what is going on. What isn't understood is how many of these polygamous families are on government funded support. A sad life!

9:14PM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

I don't think that interfering with adult life styles is any of the governments business

7:37PM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

I don't see a thing wrong with this family. I don't see a thing wrong with gay couples marrying either. As long as everyone is a consenting adult, not a coerced and scared teenager, and they can support their children decently, why not? I wouldn't mind more spouses if we all got along. That's not the easiest thing to do and I never expect that to actually happen in my life and marriage, but in theory, I have no problem with it.

5:19PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

I would love a few extra husbands to cater to my overblown ego. And if they could get pregnant all the better. I love the pitter patter of little bare feet across my sparkling clean floor which would be properly attended to by my more domesticated husband, while the mothering husband could just churn them babies out on a regular basis.Oh sweet bliss, I get giddy just thinking of it!!!!!


3:50PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Well, Amy B., it WAS wrong for a Godly man! Solomon's many wives swayed his heart away from worship of the One True God, supplanting Him with many lesser entities, and crashed his faith. Polyamory constitutes an abuse of intimate partners each time their King's affections wander, and the irony for him is that he ended up with nothing. Mormonism originally had its polygamous doctrine, but punted it in favor of entrance into the Union. The Mormons I know consider polygamists to be an embarrassment, and hew to the tested and true model of marriage: one man and one woman, for as long as they both live.

We shouldn't compromise our freedom by being wantonly stupid with it and hurting other people -- which polygamy makes unavoidable.

11:03AM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

there are reasons to be careful about things like this....no one should be forced into any marriage....however, if they are consenting adults who want this life style it should be a choice. We live in America to have freedom....and frankly Solomon had many wives and concubines...so all of these right wing conservatives can chew on that for a while. If it wasn't wrong for a Godly man, why is it wrong now in our life time?

8:41AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

I have more of a problem with 'holier than thou--hide the alleged perpetrators' Archbishop Dolan rolling his eyes in judgement of gay marriage and polygamists.

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