Brown Family To File Challenge To The Criminalization of Polygamy In Utah

As reported by The New York Times and National Public Radio, I will be traveling to Salt Lake City today to file (on Wednesday) a challenge to the Utah statute criminalizing bigamy and cohabitation. The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of my clients, the Brown family. The Browns are featured in the TLC program Sister Wives as an openly polygamous family.

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday and we will be available for questions at 1 p.m. outside of the courthouse.

The Plaintiffs are Kody Brown, Christine Brown, Janelle Brown, Meri Brown, and Robyn Sullivan.

As in past cases, I will have to be circumspect in what I say after the filing of this action. However, we are honored to represent the Brown family in this historic challenge,” said Professor Turley. “We believe that this case represents the strongest factual and legal basis for a challenge to the criminalization of polygamy ever filed in the federal courts. We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs. This action seeks to protect one of the defining principles of this country, what Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the right to be left alone.’ In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values – even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state.

The following is the statement from Kody Brown, which will be the only statement at this time on the filing:

Statement of Kody Brown:

“There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families. 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. We are indebted to Professor Turley and his team for their work and dedication. Together we hope to secure equal treatment with other families in the United States.”

We will post the complaint as soon as it is docketed by the Clerk of Court.

Jonathan Turley

156 thoughts on “Brown Family To File Challenge To The Criminalization of Polygamy In Utah”

  1. Well, “Anonymously Yours,” I do try to understand the law. Just because a Federal Court covers many states, as the 9th includes Utah, I fail to see a “NEXUS” that ties the Browns in Nevada to Utah State Law that gives them standing to challenge Utah’s law. Especially since, as they are not in Utah’s jurisdiction, they are under no threat of prosecution by Utah. Your explanation still doesn’t explain why a Nevada resident has any cause of action – especially in Federal Court – against the State of Utah. Unless, perhaps, they might claim more than $50,000 in damages (the Federal threshold for interstate suits) because they felt compelled to move to Nevada due to the fact that Utah was INVESTIGATING them and, possibly, considering charges. Again, I hope the Browns succeed (as you might suspect).

  2. further brief review of the post reveals that the author has referred to the author in the third person, which is a signature sign of jackassery / narcissism.
    And, for those who worry that I am making myself unhappy by wallowing here, I can assure you, I am rather enjoying myself.

  3. Speaking for myself as a behavioral profiler and analyst, I am comfortable in saying that someone who comes into another person’s blog and unloads a gratuitous personal insult such as the one just before AY’s comment, is more likely than not, a jackass and a narcissist, if I do say so myself.

  4. Tom,

    Federal District and Circuit Courts serve many states….So, what is the problem with standing….I think Utah is part of the 9th Circuit CofA….but then again…You said you were not schooled in the law…

  5. Well little “john” we happen to like the professor. But sir, with all due respect….and I do mean with all due respect, if you don’t like this site you are welcome to go to any other site you wish….and I wish you would…well, I am going to be selfish and say most everyone on her wishes you would….

    The rights to be free to read something also means the rights to not be forced to read something….so please do not read this again….and you sir will not have your dignity insulted…Thank you….

  6. Anything that begins with the author’s citations to news articles about the author is authored by a jackass and a narcissist, if I do say so myself.

  7. Prof. Turley, How can the Browns have STANDING to bring suit against the State of Utah when they now live in the State of Nevada? I hope you’re successful and encourage “the right to be left alone.” It just seems to my non-legal-trained mind that the State of Utah would file a Motion to Dismiss based on lack of “Standing” by the Browns of Nevada.

  8. JT I know you will do your best to present your case. I hope you get a nice paycheck to support your family and pay lots of taxes with new corporate jets. The 50% of americans who pay taxes are proud of you.
    As for the premise I think this “we ain’t hurtin’ nobody so what’s your problem” idea is rubbish. If consenting siblings want to screw each other and promote double recessive chromosomal lefties for our collective medical system (to be) to spend extra tax dollars on … you can count me out for support. Same goes if one screws one’s children with same results. (I suppose if they are good lookin’ then we might give you extra points for that, eh?) So these people seem (repeat SEEM) to be a sweet bunch of aces, right? I haven’t seen it nor will I. But this show SOUNDS like that drippy bunch of pablum on Sundays where the Sears proponent finds their “Queen for a Day” and builds them a beautiful house because they are “deserving”. BS I say. It’s just another show that grandma’s with agendas love to watch to remind them how great or rotten their life is. Nice family? Charlie Manson had a nice family with consenting adults … mostly. How did that turn out again?

    I remember a book called “the naked ape”. I really don’t know if it has been trashed by now or not. However the author made a great case for humans evolving physiologically into monogamous relationships as a family unit. I personally believe in this. Oh, is it OK to run around like dogs in heat and jeez we can die any minute so … anything goes! But SHOULD WE ascribe to this tenant? Should we promote and enforce the boundaries that we try to instill into our kids? No? Then there are no boundaries, just like there would be no laws if they are not enforced. Then what happen to all us lawyers?

    We’ve met the enemy and he is us.

  9. Personally, I find polygamy misogynistic and fraught will all manner of ethical and practical dilemmas. I find the women subservient to the male and believe it harkens back to a time of harems and male domination. I believe there are legitimate government interests in protecting young,impressionable and often low self-esteemed women who may consider this arrangement. I would regulate the practice to insure intelligent choice rather than making it criminal conduct.

  10. I’ll bless the union when Jerry/Jenny writes the blawg a post all atwitter at the prospect 🙂

    I needed that… Thanks, lottakatz. 🙂

  11. Regarding Jerry/Jenny: I’m one for informed consent, I’ll bless the union when Jerry/Jenny writes the blawg a post all atwitter at the prospect 🙂

    As to the actual case, I wish the Professor luck in the matter.

    A lifestyle that is built on a paternal foundation and requiring submission by women to their family patriarch isn’t my cup of tea no matter how many wives are involved.

    I feel sorry for any female child raised in that culture because it seems to me to train the child to limit her view of her true potential. But I’m not the marriage police and don’t think marriage police have any role to play in a free society beyond sorting out things like taxes, divorce, child custody etc.

    Utah needs to stop supressing the impulse to marry, as should the rest of the US, no matter who wants to marry.

  12. Jonathan, you looked good on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer tonight, Tuesday, 7-12-2011, on the 6:30 p.m. EST nightly news. Lean, Mean, Fightin’ Machine. Go get’em. Frank

  13. For those who want to read an extended argument against legalizing polygamy, very interesting article by Stanley Kurtz in The Weekly Standard here:

    I disagree with most of the political views expressed in The Weekly Standard, but by no means all. The shrill voices of the far right tend to make liberals forget there is a such a thing as a responsible, principled and intellectually rigorous variety of conservatism. (Would there were more of it!)

    I find Kurtz’s views on polygamy persuasive, although I disagree with his stance that gay marriage puts us on a slippery slope that inevitably leads to legalization of polygamy. If there is a slope, it isn’t steep, and it isn’t slippery. The cases are distinguishable. Gay marriage as it is currently developing is monogamous; it does nothing to disparage the ideal of faithful pairings. Gay marriage does not affect the pool of willing mates available to heterosexuals (unless you want to argue that things were better 40 years ago when repressed homosexuals felt compelled to enter opposite-sex marriages).

    Kurtz’s essay has much to say about the recently-ended HBO series, Big Love. Writing in 2006, Kurtz seemed worried that the popular show, by glamorizing the “good” polygamy practiced by Bill Henrickson and his three wives, would aid the cause of those arguing for legalization of polygamy. Perhaps he needn’t have worried. If you watched the show you’d have noted how exhaustingly difficult it was for the Henrickson family to simultaneously uphold the principle of plural marriage and the equal status of women. (Not to mention all the jealousy and infighting.) I find it interesting that the show’s creators (a gay male couple, BTW) only resolved the tensions between the sister wives by having Bill get killed in the final episode. Sure, it gave the series a neatly wrapped conclusion (always a good artistic judgment), but I can’t help feeling that subconsciously the writers knew there could be no happy ending while the patriarch stayed in the picture.

  14. “We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations” Really!?! They went on a reality TV show, therefore it is no longer private!

  15. Mike Spindell,

    I would submit that “right” was also on the side of women, blacks, gays, atheists, etc. That doesn’t mean anyone is keen on possibly losing their job, alienating family, risking having their children taken from them, or even being the subject of uneducated and lewd assumptions. In many states (like say, Utah) there is even a looming threat of prosecution. Yes, more people need to speak up but I don’t begrudge them for their silence given the price they may be asked to pay.


    You bring up the other point I was going to make about “why do people always assume it’s the man who would have multiple wives but not that the wives would have multiple husbands”. Thank you.

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