Brown v. Buhman
A Mormon polygamist family in 1888.
Brown v. Buhman is a U.S. District Court case filed by polygamous patriarch Kody Brown along with matriarchs Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown, and Robyn Sullivan, who practice the Apostolic United Brethren faith. The Brown family also were featured in the reality television series, Sister Wives.
Before the Browns starred in the TV series, attorneys and legal experts claimed that, because polygamy is illegal in the United States, the Browns could potentially have opened themselves up to criminal prosecution through their involvement in the series. Video footage of a marriage ceremony between Kody Brown and Robyn Sullivan could be used as evidence against them if subpoenaed by the state attorney general of Utah. Kody Brown has claimed the family is breaking no laws because only the first marriage is a legal marriage, while the others are simply commitments. However, experts claim that the family having been a unit for 16 years and including children from all four wives could lead prosecutors to characterize the non-marriage unions as common-law marriages. Sullivan said the family was worried about legal repercussions and had discussed the matter thoroughly, but decided the positive effects their show could have toward the public perception of polygamy was worth the risks. In anticipation of legal scrutiny, the producers of the show contacted the Utah Attorney General's office months before the series was broadcast. The office has not ruled out pursuing a case against the Brown family, but also stated they do not have the resources to go after polygamists unless they are suspected of serious crimes such as child abuse or child trafficking. Prior to the Sister Wives premiere, it had been nine years since anyone in Utah had been prosecuted for practicing polygamy.
|Wikinews has related news: Utah police investigate polygamist family from reality show 'Sister Wives'|
On September 27, 2010, the day after Sister Wives debuted, police in Lehi, Utah, announced they are investigating Kody Brown and his wives for possible charges of bigamy, a third-degree felony, which carries a possible penalty of 20 years in prison for Kody and up to five years in prison for each wife. Once the investigation concluded, the police turned their evidence over to the Utah County Attorney's office for review. Despite Brown being only legally married to one woman, Lehi police have noted that state code identifies bigamy through cohabitation, not just legal marriage contracts. In response to the investigation, the Browns released a statement: "We are disappointed in the announcement of an investigation, but when we decided to do this show, we knew there would be risks. But for the sake of our family, and most importantly, our kids, we felt it was a risk worth taking." The Brown family hired constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley, a vocal critic of anti-polygamy laws, to prepare a legal defense in the event that charges are filed. As a result of the series and legal scrutiny that came with it, Meri lost her job in the mental health industry shortly after Sister Wives debuted, even though her employer knew about the polygamist marriage before the show aired. Additionally, Kody said the show negatively affected some of his advertising sales, with some clients opting to take their business elsewhere due to publicity from the show.
"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."
On June 1, 2012, the criminal case against the Browns was dropped. However the suit filed by the Browns remained active after a federal judge refused to dismiss it, saying "strategic attempt to use the mootness doctrine to evade review in this case draws into question the sincerity of [the Utah County Attorney's] contention that prosecution of plaintiffs for violating this statute is unlikely to recur". The hearing on the case occurred in January 2013.
On December 13, 2013, Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that portions of Utah's ban on multiple cohabitation were unconstitutional and found in favor of the Browns, but also allowed Utah to maintain its ban on multiple marriage licenses.
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- Filed complaint in "Brown v. Herbert"
- Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, Christine Brown, Robyn Sullivan v. Utah
- "The Invasion of Sexual Privacy", Ali Khan, San Diego Law Review, 1986
- "Polygamy as Lifestyle Choice, and a Reality TV Brand", John Schwartz, Jan. 8, 2014 New York Times