28 Dec 2010

Mormon polygamous family featured in new TV reality series under police investigation for bigamy after first show airs

KSL-TV - Salt Lake City, Utah September 27, 2010

‘Sister Wives' family under investigation following TV debut

LEHI -- A polygamous Lehi family featured on a new TV series that debuted Sunday night has drawn the attention of local police.

Kody Brown and his wives are the subject of a TLC program called "Sister Wives". The show premiered with an hour-long special, the first installment of a seven-part "docu-series" about Kody Brown and his three (soon-to-be four) wives -- Meri, Janelle and Christine -- and their 13 children. The series began with Brown announcing plans to take on another wife, Robyn, and her three children.

In a statement released Monday, Lehi police said they are now investigating the Brown family for bigamy, a third-degree felony.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, the evidence will be forwarded to the Utah County Attorney's Office for review and possible prosecution," according to Lehi Police Lt. Darren Paul.

KSL News spoke to the family last week on their promotional tour for the show. Kody Brown and his wives said they made the show knowing there could be legal consequences and decided it was a risk they were willing to take.

"That is a part of the risk assessment that we did. I mean, because yes, of course, that is a possibility," Meri Brown, Kody's Brown's first wife, said.

Producers of the show apparently feared the Browns could come under legal scrutiny. They contacted the Utah Attorney General's Office months before airing the program.

"They called us and said, ‘Hey, are you going to shut us down?'" said Scott Troxel, spokesman for the attorney general.

Troxel said the Utah Attorney General's Office doesn't have the resources to go after polygamists unless it suspects crimes such as child abuse or child trafficking.

"Right now, it's not in our hands, but we're not closing the door," he said.

Christine Brown, Kody Brown's third wife, told KSL, "We're not living this lifestyle out of disrespect for the law in any way. We're law-abiding citizens. We're doing this just out of our faith."

"We are not members of the LDS Church," she added. "They banned polygamy a long time ago, and we actually need to make that certain to protect the Church and to let people know that that's not part of their belief."

The Utah County Attorney's Office became aware of "Sister Wives" after receiving several phone calls Monday, said Tim Taylor, chief deputy county attorney.

"Obviously, we can't do anything until we get a case," he said before Lehi issued its statement announcing an investigation. "We haven't seen anything. I don't know if we will see anything."

Taylor said the county occasionally prosecutes people under its bigamy statute, though not necessarily polygamists.

"We'll take a look at any case that comes into our office to see if it has merit," he said.

In 2001, one of Utah's most high-profile polygamists, Tom Green, was convicted in Provo's 4th District Court of bigamy and failure to pay child support. He also was later found guilty of child rape.

Prior to his convictions, Green and his family talked openly about their lifestyle on international and national TV programs, including "The Jerry Springer Show," "Dateline" and "Judge Judy." Prosecutors said they didn't start investigating Green until seeing him on TV.

Meanwhile, TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg had no comment Monday night on the investigation.

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Vancouver Sun - B.C., Canada September 28, 2010

I do, I do, I do: When one wife is not enough

New reality TV show Sister Wives provides compelling insight into the unsettling subject of polygamy


It is only minutes into Sister Wives, the new TLC reality show about a polygamist family, when you figure out what's in it for Kody Brown.

Kody has been a polygamist his entire adult life, and while it's not legal in Utah where he lives (or anywhere else in the U.S. or Canada), he was born into the culture, inculcated by his polygamist father and the Mormon community in which he was raised.

And so, 20 years ago, Kody married Meri and then Janelle a few years after that and then Christine a few years after that.

Like most fundamental church-based beliefs, polygamy is a man's world and it's clear from the Sunday night premiere of the seven-part Sister Wives that what's in it for Kody, who is a charming youthful man with much energy and rock-star hair, is that life is a smorgasbord of interesting if compliant women, with Kody as some kind of working-class American gigolo representing the main course.

He earnestly tells viewers in the first episode that he's doing the show because he wants to "come out of the closet" and stop hiding his lifestyle from the world, and then goes on to walk us through his life, through his home's three separate apartments, with their separate kitchens and bedrooms, and he chats about keeping a calendar to chart his rotating conjugal services and admits he often gets confused about what door he's walking through, joking that "I don't have my own space."

The show is at once compelling and unsettling, partly because for Kody and his wives, and their 12 (soon to be 13) children, life does seem rather normal. They kiss and hug and fight and bicker. They complain about chores and go to the mall and worry about the future.

The kids seem bright and content, and it's clear from the first episode that theirs is a loving home where everyone pitches in, from cooking to child care.

It is perhaps this puzzling dichotomy of polygamy, and the fact that many sister wives practise it willingly while others, clearly, do not, that has turned plural marriage into a new pop culture business, as Hollywood capitalizes on our curiosity.

Sister Wives is the real-life version of the HBO hit Big Love, a scripted tale of a man with several wives. On the big screen, actress Katherine Heigl is about to star in a movie based on the story of Carolyn Jessop, who escaped a polygamist sect. If it all has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel that's because the subject has been much in the news in recent years with a number of high-profile court cases, from Bountiful in B.C. to Utah polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, who was charged in 2006 with incest and sexual contact with minors and jailed in 2007 following a conviction for rape.

Sister Wives is many things, but mostly it's fascinating, and a surprising eye-opener for those who have opinions, if not knowledge, about the troubling issues around polygamy.

If Kody seems the big winner in the lifestyle, his wives will tell you they are no less happy with the arrangement. Meri and Christine were raised in polygamist families, while Janelle, though a Mormon, was not. They are smart and articulate, offering no apologies about why they willingly, as young adult women, chose to be sister wives. Plural marriage works for them, they say, and if they seem at times like some kind of Stepford version of a polygamy ad campaign, all pretty and polished, there is a twisted logic listening to them talk about their upbringing, about their roles (Christine is the stay-at-home mom while Meri and Janelle work outside the home, as does advertising salesman Kody), about who has sex with Kody (all of them, but not together because "we don't do weird"), about jealousy and child-rearing and fears and finances and what they know is criticism in wider society.

In USA Today, Janelle put it this way: "The women in our family chose this life, often over the option to pursue traditional monogamous relationships. We are very happy, and our children are extremely well adjusted. We have raised our children talking about choice and consequence in a very real fashion and emphasize personal choice in their lives. We emphasize education for our children and do not condone underage or arranged marriages."

The premiere episode also focused on Kody's announcement that he is not only "courting" another woman, 16 years after his last marriage, but is thinking of asking her to join the family. Robyn, of course, eventually becomes wife No. 4, after much emotional discussion among the sister wives, and brings her four children to the Brown fold, boosting the size of the family to 21.

"Love," says Kody, in explaining the family expansion, "should be multiplied, not divided."

Sister Wives is at once compelling and repellent, and as the family works its way through their on-air exhortations, we await the discussion on how receptive Kody might be to his wives taking on a few brother-husbands.

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