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Tuesday
Jul122011

'Sister Wives' Family Plans to Challenge Polygamy Law

PRNewsFoto/TLC(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The polygamist family portrayed on the TLC reality show Sister Wives said all along its main goal in going on national television was to gain public acceptance of its lifestyle. Now family patriarch Kody Brown, his four wives and 16 children and stepchildren are moving from the court of public opinion to the court of law, arguing that criminalizing their lifestyle is unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the Browns are expected to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law in their home state of Utah, where they came under investigation for violating the state law that prohibits polygamy.

Brown and his four wives -- Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn -- moved their family to Las Vegas earlier this year, in part, they told ABC News, to escape the criminal investigation.

"We didn't want this thing hanging over us," Brown, a salesman, told ABC News last March. "We went to Vegas with hopes of having a good life, preserving the family...We never did anything here at all to be rebellious, to challenge the statutes of the law or anything like that."

"We still have our family," Robyn, Brown's fourth wife, said. "That's all it boils down to."

Police in Lehi, Utah, launched an investigation into the Brown family's lifestyle last September for a possible charge of bigamy after TLC initially announced the show Sister Wives. Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah and punishable by up to five years in prison.

As reported by The New York Times, the Browns' purported lawsuit does not demand that states recognize polygamous marriage but asks that federal courts tell states they cannot punish polygamists for their "intimate behavior" so long as they are not breaking other laws, such as child abuse or incest.

The Browns are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, a fundamentalist break from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormon Church -- which officially banned polygamy more than 100 years ago as Utah sought statehood.

In making their case, the Browns argue that making polygamous unions illegal violates the free exercise, establishment, free speech and freedom of association clauses of the First Amendment, and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The Browns have faced no allegations of incest, child abuse or child brides, despite the inquiries into their lifestyle, something that could help their case in court.

A ruling in the Brown's favor would affect tens of thousands of people in polygamous families in the United States.  

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