The success of TLC’s show Sister Wives has given millions of people a view into the real-life workings of a polygamist family. And on Friday afternoon, patriarch Kody Brown and his Sister Wives family brought the cameras with them as they rallied to make plural marriage legal.
Gathering on the steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, the reality stars joined hundreds of others polygamous people and supporters in protest of a bill that would keep polygamy a felony in Utah.
“I’m a father, a husband, and a lover, NOT a felon,” read a sign held by Brown.
It was the first time since 2012 that the Sister Wives stars made a public appearance in Utah. Brown and his wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — moved from there to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2011.
Last month, Brown attempted to challenge Utah’s bigamy law with the U.S. Supreme Court, but was declined.
Utah’s current polygamy law currently states that married people cannot live with an extra spouse or claim to have a second “spiritual spouse,” the Associated Press reports.
The new bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab, would “adjust the definition of bigamy to say someone is guilty if he or she ‘purports’ to marry two or more people and cohabits with them,” The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
The proposed legislation would also subject those convicted under it to harsher penalties if they’re convicted of additional crimes, such as domestic or sexual abuse, the AP reports. Those who leave polygamous relationships because they feared harm, coercion, are underage, or are trying to protect a minor in the plural family would be shielded from prosecution.
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According to Noel and a handful of former polygamists women who support his bill, closed polygamous communities can have widespread problems – including sexual abuse, child abuse, welfare fraud and forced labor. They stated their cause on Friday, before the rally began outside the Capitol, the AP reports. (The Browns do not live in a closed polygamist community.)
Noel’s bill was approved by a House committee this week. It is not waiting to be voted on by the full House of Representatives, the AP reports.
There are roughly 30,000 polygamists living in Utah according to Noah’s bill. It’s practice is an early teaching of the Mormon church, who preached polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. The current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints forbids the practice, abandoning it in 1890.
Brown told The Salt Late Tribune on Friday that keeping polygamy a crime makes polygamous families afraid to call ambulances or social services that can help them. “Stop prosecuting consenting adults,” he said.
“I want my right to live my life as a consenting adult,” added Meri Brown.
Kody is legally married to only one of his wives — Robyn. He was married to Meri, his first wife, until 2015, when the pair quietly divorced and Kody remarried. Kody and his wives remain “spiritually married.”