Progressive Polygamy is not Family Restoration

This guest blog post is from 2L Sandra Stanzione, current Family Law student:

In 2010, TLC premiered the television show, Sister Wives featuring the “progressively polygamist” Brown family made up of Kody, his legal wife, three “spiritual wives,” and their total of 17 children. Throughout the series, the show has demonstrated the relationship dynamics and struggles each of the women and their children face sharing Kody’s time and attention with one another. Despite the difficulties, the Browns stand behind their decision to live as a polygamous family and, in 2012, filed suit challenging Utah’s anti-bigamy law.

Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101 prevents a married person from simultaneously marrying or cohabitating with another person. The statute indicates bigamy in Utah is a felony of the third degree and the only legal defense to this crime occurs if “the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to marry.” However, Utah has a policy of not typically prosecuting violations of this law.

The day after the show aired, the Browns’ local police department announced an investigation of the family for bigamy due to the flood of incoming phone calls inquiring what the department planned to do about this situation. The family subsequently relocated to Nevada to avoid prosecution. In 2016, Kody and the sister wives tried to convince courts to overturn the Utah anti-bigamy statute, claiming it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. However, their case was rendered moot because of their relocation to a state where they are now under no threat of prosecution.

The Browns petitioned for a writ of certiorari, but on Monday, January 23, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States denied the petitioners’ request for the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to hear their case again. See http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/supreme-court-denies-sister-wives-polygamy-case-petition-article-1.2953337 for more information.

While marriage is a fundamental right, to be married to more than one person, even if they all agree, is not constitutionally protected.

(To learn more download How Will the Proliferation and Recognition of Domestic Partnerships Affect Marriage? 4 J. Fam. Stud. 105 (2002).)

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