Tomorrow, a federal court in Salt Lake City will hear the closing arguments in the “Sister Wives” case. The Browns, who have become famous as the subjects of the TLC reality show Sister Wives, filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s criminal polygamy law in July of 2011. The Browns, alongside their outspoken lawyer Jonathan Turley, argued that the law violates due process, equal protection, free speech, free exercise, free association, and the right to establish religion.
Turley offered his opinion on the proceedings,
[The Browns] are seeking what most families take for granted: the ability to structure their families and their lives according to their own values and beliefs. The state has acknowledged that this family has neither committed any crime nor sought multiple marriage licenses. They have been declared to be felons under state law simply because they choose to live as one family. The Browns have not questioned the right of the state to limit its recognition of marriage and to prosecute those citizens who secure multiple marriage licenses from the state. Rather they are challenging the right of the state to declare either cohabitation or plural relationships between consenting adults to be a felony.
I have a lot of affection for the Browns. Sure, Kody sometimes invokes the patriarchy in a way that upsets my feminist sensibilities, but they’re a complex and human group of people. Janelle wasn’t even polygamy affiliated before the marriage. They all talk earnestly about the meaning their lifestyle has to them, and its hard not to see how the big, extended-family element of it is appealing.
It’ll be a travesty if this law isn’t overturned for a number of reasons. First of all, making consensual polygamy legal is the first step to identifying non-consensual polygamy – as well as the polygamist exploitation of the welfare system that groups such as the Brown’s own Apostolic United Brethren have been accused of. Secondly, I can’t think of any reason that consenting adults should have to live in fear just because of the way they structure their private lives, especially if the way they do so isn’t harming anybody.