The TLC network reality show Sister Wives has only aired one episode and already has become the center of controversy and a pending felony investigation. Kody Brown, a Lehi, Utah, advertising salesman, and his polygamous relationship with four women not only landed the 42-year-old Mormon a reality series on television but also a probe by local authorities into the legality of his living situation and possible marriages to the women of his household. Kody Brown and his family told TMZ they knew they would come under scrutiny when they decided to participate in the making of Sister Wives, but found it was “a risk worth taking.”
In a statement to TMZ, the Browns said: “We are disappointed in the announcement of an investigation, but when we decided to do this show, we knew there would be risks.”
The statement continued: “But for the sake of our family, and most importantly, our kids, we felt it was a risk worth taking.”
Lehi police Lt. Darren Paul said that the investigation began shortly after TLC announced the show several weeks prior to its debut.
“Admittedly, [the investigation] was brought on by the publicity surrounding the show,” Paul told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s rare because most of the time people don’t bring this kind of attention onto themselves. But it is a state law, and we’re going to investigate it.” However, that the show was being investigated was not announced until Monday, the day after Sister Wives premiered on TLC.
All evidence was turned over to the Utah County Attorney’s Office to determine whether or not any laws have been broken and are prosecutable. Bigamy, or the act of being married to more than one person at a coexisting time, is a third-degree felony in Utah, but, according to reports, Kody Brown has legally married only one of the four women (Meri) who are said to be his “wives.” The other three women he married in church ceremonies but has no marriage license legalizing the marriages.
But according to Utah law, bigamy is also defined as cohabitation in certain circumstances where legal marriage contracts aren’t the only standard of marriage. The Utah Code states: “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.”
Anti-polygamy laws have been part of the legal system for centuries. Polygamy was officially abolished in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, but it took several acts of Congress to force the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to comply. The Church formally prohibited polygamy amongst its members in 1890, although several fundamentalist sects still adhere to forms of the practice.
Kody Brown and his wives aren’t the only people who find the legal marriage standards restricting. Anne Wilde, cofounder of Principle Voices, a plural marriage advocacy group, told the Salt Lake Tribune that “upstanding families like those headed by Kody Brown weren’t breaking any other laws and were targets of police who have had no choice but to enforce the polygamy laws as written. Wilde said that the marriages were no secret, that the Browns were attempting to “educate people that this is a viable lifestyle.
“This just shows all the more reason the crime needs to be reduced … so that this doesn’t happen to consenting adults,” Wilde continued. “We have a right to form our families in the way we select, just like all the other alternative-lifestyle families in the U.S. – which, by the way, are more than 50 percent of all families.”
Besides Meri, Kody Brown is the common law husband of Janelle, Christine, and new wife Robyn. He has 13 children and three stepchildren. They live in a single dwelling that is divided into four separate apartments.
TLC told the Tribune that they had not known of an ongoing investigation until contacted by one of their reporters. They offered no comment on the matter.
Sister Wives is broadcast on Sunday evenings.