Sister Wives Family Suffers, Challenging Polygamy Law

July 14, 2011

I think most people have heard about the show, ‘Sister Wives’ on TLC.  The show highlights Kody Brown, a polygamist normal guy, who is legally married to one woman, but has three other “wives” (not legally).  With several states redefining who can be married, it seems that Brown thinks he can fight a law that Mormons unsuccessful tried to in the 19th century.

Brown’s arguement is that his four wives, Robyn, Christine, Meri and Janelle, have a consensual relationship in the privacy of their own household. He believe that it is a private concern and wants to use  a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy laws for the benefit of gay couples.  The law was overturned because of the argument that states cannot govern “intimate conduct” between consenting adults.

All this heat on Brown’s marriages forced the family to move from Utah to Nevada. Apparently, the famous polygamist might have a chance to win his case.  Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard said,

“The fact that a law is on the books and maybe there might be a prosecution doesn’t necessarily give them standing to bring a legal challenge,” he said. “Federal judges are loathe to weigh in on something hypothetical.”

The Salt Lake Tribune adds:

In a Tuesday statement, Kody Brown said his family has struggled with stereotypes and unfair treatment due to their beliefs. But likely before they can lay out the legal case in favor of polygamy, they’re going to have to show a judge that they are truly suffering under the law. The Browns may ask for “prospective relief,” Barnard said, essentially: “Do not criminally charge me for what I do tomorrow.”

Ah, how can one guy with four wives suffer?  Wait, wait… Don’t answer that.

It is unlikely that this case will get anywhere, but it certainly adds to the question, “How much can states define ‘marriage’?” Traditional marriage advocates believe marriage to be between “one man and one woman” but several states, including New York, opened the interpretation of that definition to include marriage between men and between women.

Could Brown use the debate of state’s interpretation of ‘marriage’ as fuel for his case?

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1 Comment

  • Kevin Marshall July 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    It’s certainly an interesting case.

    My two cents, which are worth as much literally as they are figuratively: Suffering due to persecution of beliefs likely won’t get them very far in Court. It’s not tangible enough to provide a solid case, and even so, the argument presented forth would be that the apprehension or perceived bias against them is a result of lifestyle choices rather than any ability to adhere or live in defiance of the legislation. In other words, even if the law were changed, they’d still be polygamist and the stigma attached to it would remain.

    The only suffering they can conclusively prove is a lack of health, financial, and other benefits not awarded to the unlegally wed sister wives. This is where it gets really interesting. In terms of the children, they’re covered because of the father. But what of the mothers (the sister wives) of those children? My guess is that the approach will be concurrent with my personal belief on the matter: that marriage is a partnership, not a community designation. As such, restrinctions against aspects of potential partners – age, sex, creed, etcetera – are discriminatory, but not the number of partners one can enter into.

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