Brown Family Challenges Utah’s Polygamy Law

Today, we filed the complaint below in the challenge to Utah’s criminal polygamy law. I am still in Salt Lake City for the filing. With me today is our local counsel Adam Alba, an outstanding young attorney and one of my former students. As noted earlier, the lawsuit is on behalf of my clients, the Brown family. The Browns are featured in the TLC program Sister Wives as an openly polygamous family.

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

The Defendants are Governor Gary Herbert, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and County Attorney Jeffrey R. Buhman.

There are seven claims for relief:

Claim One: Due Process

Claim Two: Equal Protection

Claim Three: Free Exercise

Claim Four: Free Speech

Claim Five: Freedom of Association

Claim Six: Establishment of Religion

Claim Seven: 42 U.S.C. § 1983

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.”

Here is the complaint filed today: Brown Complaint

Jonathan Turley

190 thoughts on “Brown Family Challenges Utah’s Polygamy Law

  1. If he is not legally married to the other wives then whats the problem? Half the state will need to be in court for living with someone they are not married to.

  2. Things that do not harm others but are against the law:

    Having consitual sex with your sister.

    Sitting on a park bench drunk with an open container.

    Base jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Being naked in a bar.

    Riding on a motercycle without a helmet.

  3. I am at a loss for words!
    People WANT polygamist marriages? Um, with the world already being WAY overpopulated by monagamous marriages and relationships, what in the world is going on in the minds of people that think one man should impregnate as many women as he can and call it religion?

  4. Pardon my late entry, but the statute reads, plainly or otherwise, with a distinct inferrence that the polygymous families live apart or are otherwise not entertwined with the exception of the offender:
    76-7-101. Bigamy — Defense.
    (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
    (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
    (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

    Or is this just the inferrence for the defense of polygymy?

  5. I am no longer certain where you are getting your information, but great topic. I must spend some time studying more or working out more. Thanks for wonderful information I used to be on the lookout for this info for my mission.

  6. Why is the state even in the business marriage, anyway? It has no business deciding matters of the heart. The only reasons marriage is a government function is because of income tax (which was not a legally-passed Constitutional amendment) and because health care is tied to our employer. Eliminate the income tax and have a sales tax and make all health insurance individual, as it is in Switzerland, and Americans can return to respecting each other, as the Founding Fathers intended.

  7. It seems to me that it would be just as unequal to legalize polygyny but not polyandry, the only way to do this fairly would be to legalize all forms of plural marriage between consenting adults, and I think it would also be reasonable to set a much higher minimum age for plural marriage, say 21. (or even higher, if possible say 26.) Even have a waiting period – not allow people to decide one day, get married the next.

    So that people would take the commitment as seriously as possible.

    Of course, there must be a way to write these laws to distinguish groups by the same methods that most of us use when making judgment calls on this kind of thing, and not legalize anything that could be coercive, a way should be found to do that.

    I do not think the cult-like groups (who appear to be quite different than the Browns) should be legalized. The prosecutors could distinguish between these two distinct kinds of multiple marriage, which seem as different as night and day to me.

    Abusive and controlling plural marriages are cults, like, for example, the Manson “Family” and, (in stark contrast to the courageous Browns) they should not be legal.

  8. Dear Mr. Jonathan Turley,

    I know it’s been a while since you filed with the 10th District Court on the Browns’ complaint but it’s been 2 years since the filing. I wanted to know: what is the current status of the case?

    What did the federal judge say on his motion regarding the Browns? Will polygamy finally be legalized? I am anxious to find out the answer because either the media or underground sources aren’t linking the current updates or I’m just left in the dark without knowing whether it is legal to or not.

    I am a Christian who believes in polygyny, more specifically; though I do not have a wife or more than one wife, I am determined to have more than one despite its criminality within the American laws set forth.

    Let me know! By the way, tell the Browns though I may not agree with their faith, I do agree that polygamy on their part is not “a cult” at all. It’s a blessing to see Kody Brown have four wives and still love them all. I hope they all get through the most difficult times and see polygamy decriminalized!

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