When we first met Sister Wives stars Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown, the polygamist family was happily living in Lehi, UT. Under threat of prosecution for bigamy, however, they decamped to Las Vegas in Season 2. And now it seems like Kody and his four wives might never get to live in Utah again, now that the United States Supreme Court has opted not to hear the case they started with a 2011 lawsuit. Here’s the backstory on Brown v. Buhman…
The day after Sister Wives‘ September 2010 series premiere, police in Lehi announced they were investigating the Brown family for bigamy, and the following month, they presented their findings to the Utah County Attorney. Granted, Kody is only legally married to one woman, but Utah state code asserts that bigamy is identified through cohabitation, not legal marriage contracts.
Then, in July 2011, the Browns filed a complaint against Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and Utah County Attorney Jeffrey R. Buhman. “There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families,” Kody said in a statement. “We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs. While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy.”
Nearly a year later, the criminal case against the Browns was dropped, but the reality family’s civil suit remained in play. And in December 2013, US District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that while Utah may continue to ban multiple marriage licenses, its anti-polygamy law prohibiting multiple cohabitation was unconstitutional. It was a major win for the Browns… but their victory was short-lived.
In April 2016, after Utah had appealed the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, a panel of three judges cited “standing grounds” and ordered that district court to dismiss that ruling. Basically, these judges decided the Browns’ case was invalid because the Utah County Attorney’s Office had a policy restricting polygamy prosecutions to families accused of associated crimes such as child bigamy, fraud, and abuse. “That policy eliminated any credible threat that the Browns will be prosecuted,” the judges declared.
And in January 2017, the Browns got another devastating setback, as we saw in this current season of Sister Wives. The US Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the Browns’ appeal of that lower court’s ruling. It would have been the first polygamy case considered by the highest court in the land since 1878. But on the bright side, at least Kody and his wives are changing hearts and minds of the American public through their TLC show!
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