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Bigamy Law Appeal from 'Sister Wives' Finally Ends At Supreme Court

( [email protected] ) Jan 25, 2017 10:23 AM EST
U.S. Supreme Court judges said they won't hear an appeal from the family on TV's "Sister Wives," which challenges Utah's law that bans polygamy. The decision ends the long legal fight of Kody Brown's family to overturn a seldom used and unique provision of Utah's law about polygamous families, which bars married people from living with a second purported "spiritual spouse" even if the man is legally married to just one woman. Utah's law is stricter than anti-bigamy laws in other states.
U.S. Supreme Court judges on Monday said they won't hear an appeal from the Kody Brown family on TV's "Sister Wives" challenging Utah's law banning polygamy. Sister Wives is still aired on TLC. REUTERS/TLC

U.S. Supreme Court judges said they won't hear an appeal from the family on TV's "Sister Wives," which challenges Utah's law that bans polygamy. The decision ends the long legal fight of Kody Brown's family to overturn a seldom used and unique provision of Utah's law about polygamous families, which bars married people from living with a second purported "spiritual spouse" even if the man is legally married to just one woman. Utah's law is stricter than anti-bigamy laws in other states.

This reality cable channel TV show on TLC follows the lives of Kody Brown, his four wives and all their children. Kody Brown is legally married to Meri Brown, but has maintained that he is "spiritually married" to three other women. They live together in a plural relationship and belong to a religious group that believes in polygamy as a core religious practice. Their show continues to air on TLC. When the show debuted in 2010, it was considered ground-breaking because it offered viewers clues about plural families navigating the unique complexities of such arrangements, reports Fox News.

Utah prosecutors said they generally leave polygamists alone, but that they need the ban to pursue polygamists for other crimes, such as underage marriage and sexual assault. Only 10 people were charged with violating the law between 2001 and 2011, prosecutors stated.

Once the "Sister Wives" show aired six years ago, the legal battles began between the Browns and Utah officials. A county prosecutor opened an investigation, leading the Browns to leave their longtime residence of Lehi, Utah, in 2011, to settle in Las Vegas where they still live today.

Consequently, the Browns filed a lawsuit during 2011, calling the opening of the investigation "government abuse." The case was closed without filing any charges.

In 2013, a federal judge in Utah ruled the law violated polygamists' right to privacy and religious freedom. But an appeals court in Denver decided last year the Browns could not sue because they were not charged under the Utah law. It did not consider the constitutional issues; that ruling will now stand.

The Browns' attorney, Jonathan Turley, stated in a blog that he and the family are disappointed, but not surprised because the high court is on a pace to hear less than 1 percent of the 7,500 appeals it is likely to receive this term. Turley emphasized that an appeals court ruling was not made based on the merits of the Browns' assertion that Utah's law violates their rights of speech and religion. "Our victory in Salt Lake City will remain as a cautionary decision for legislators who wish to marginalize or sanction this community in the future," Turley said. "It has been a long road for all of us and it is not the end of the road. Plural and unconventional families will continue to strive for equal status and treatment under the law."

About 30,000 polygamists live in Utah, according to court documents. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formerly encouraged the practice but abandoned it in 1890 as a condition for becoming a state in 1896, and strictly prohibits it today, reports USA Today.

According to the Sister Wives Facebook page, there are "big changes" to be revealed this season. 

 

 

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