'Sister Wives' Lawsuit to Challenge Polygamy Law

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on July 13, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A "Sister Wives" lawsuit is expected to be filed today by the family featured on the hit TLC reality show. The polygamy lawsuit is challenging the Utah law that makes polygamy a crime.

Kody Brown is the head of the family. He has four wives and 16 children and stepchildren. The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, which is a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church.

The Mormon Church gave up polygamy in the 1890s when Utah sought statehood, reports The New York Times.

Brown himself is only legally married to one of his wives. The rest of his wives are "spiritual wives," meaning that they are not legally bound, reports The New York Times.

However, Brown's participation on the reality show brought scrutiny - and an investigation - into their family and their practices. Police started the investigation, which is still ongoing. In the meantime, the family has moved from Utah to Las Vegas, reports Deseret News.

The lawsuit itself is being filed partially on the basis of the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court decision that struck down Texas' anti-sodomy and anti-homosexual law, reports The New York Times.

Lawrence v. Texas, in part, found: that the anti-sodomy statutes violated the constitutional right to privacy, and that the Texas statute did not further any legitimate state interest that could "justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual."

But, is the Utah law similar to a law that makes sodomy or homosexuality a crime? Unlike homosexuality, polygamy has never been protected by law - and the state could make the case that there are legitimate state interests in preserving bigamy laws, like preventing harm from one spouse to another.

What will happen in the "Sister Wives" lawsuit is still unclear in these early stages. Though, the Browns are certainly employing their share of legal experts: helming the polygamy lawsuit is Professor John Turley, who teaches law at George Washington University, The New York Times reports.

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