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'Sister Wives' to Petition Supreme Court to Overturn Polygamy Ban

This week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted TLC star Kody Brown and his four wives more time to file a petition of review with the Supreme Court as part of their years-long fight against the state of Utah.
August 9, 2016, 8:11pm
Screengrab via YouTube

Kody Brown, star of TLC's reality series Sister Wives, has been granted additional time to bring an appeal before the United States Supreme Court related to the state of Utah's ban on plural marriage. Brown, along with his four wives—Meri, Christine, Janelle, and Robyn—were granted until September 10 to file a petition of review with the United States Supreme Court after the case was dismissed earlier this year by the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

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Since 2010, Sister Wives has documented the polygamous lifestyle of Brown, who was legally married to his first wife Meri and "spiritually" married to Christine, Janelle, and Robyn. (Following Meri's 2014 petition for divorce, Kody Brown legally married Robyn, though he and Meri are still "spiritually married.") The family has 18 children and are members of the Apostolic United Brethren, a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism that promotes polygamy. The official Mormon church—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—does not recognize plural marriage.

Read more: The Journey Out: Women Who Escaped a Polygamist Mormon Cult Share Their Story

The show drew the attention of the Utah State Attorney General, who threatened Brown with prosecution for bigamy. The Browns fled Utah and in 2011 filed a lawsuit against the state of Utah alleging that its strict criminal polygamy law infringed on their rights to religious freedom and privacy. While the state dropped any criminal charges in 2012, the Browns continued their civil suit, and in 2013 a US District Judge ruled that the portions of Utah's anti-polygamy laws related to multiple cohabitation were unconstitutional, though the court upheld the ban on polygamy "in the literal sense—the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage."

The Utah State Attorney General has repeatedly said they will only prosecute cases of bigamy involving children, fraud, or abuse, such as the 2007 accessory to rape conviction of polygamist Warren Jeffs, who advocates "celestial marriages" with girls as young as 12. In 2016 the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit dismissed the Browns' civil case, finding that there was no reasonable expectation that the family would be prosecuted for any criminal misconduct. The Browns plan to appeal this latest decision before the United States Supreme Court, and have been granted extra time by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to put together their case for appeal of the dismissal.

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In 1878 the United States Supreme Court ruled against George Reynolds, a member of the LDS church and secretary to Brigham Young, when he was appealing his bigamy charge under Utah law. The case ruled that bigamy was unconstitutional and is largely seen as the precedent for outlawing polygamy in the Mormon church.

Broadly reached out to the Utah State Attorney General regarding the Brown case and were told via email, "We have no comment at this time. Please feel free to contact us around September 12 for an update."