Thursday, December 9, 2010
by Diane Dimond
Laws are laws. You follow them and there’s no problem. You break the law and you’ll likely go to jail. Well, not so fast. Some laws are selectively enforced, even after a suspect admits felonious wrongdoings on national television. A prime example concerns the state of Utah and its law against polygamy.
Even though Utah has one of the broadest laws against plural marriage, there are more than 20,000 mostly secretive polygamist households tucked away in enclaves all over the sparsely populated state. Some are disheveled, disorganized compounds with poor sanitation, access to stores, health care and organized education. Other polygamists maintain their lifestyle in well-heeled homes with plenty of amenities. Utah’s felony law states that no man “shall marry, purport to marry or co-habitate with multiple wives.” But it’s a crime the state rarely prosecutes unless a man takes an underage bride. That, according to Paul Murphy, of the Utah Attorney General’s office, is considered child sexual abuse and “punishable under the state’s child bigamy law which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.”
Enter into this picture one Mr. Kody Brown, a fundamentalist Mormon who lives with multiple wives in Lehi, Utah. He likes to say his faith “rewards good behavior,” so why, he asks, stop with one good marriage when you could have more? Knowing that prosecution in his state would be unlikely this handsome, blond, 41-year-old salesman went public with his polygamist lifestyle. He and his three wives signed with The Learning Channel to be the stars of a reality show called “Sister Wives.” In the opening episode Kody announced that since “love should be multiplied not divided” he had decided to take another wife. His first three got together to pick out the new woman’s ring. Everyone seemed content with the arrangement. Now, between wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and his newest addition, Robyn, Mr. Brown is head of a household that includes four wives, 13 children and three step-children.
Kody Brown openly lives a lifestyle that is against the law and no one has made a move to stop it. No arrests have been made even though every Sunday night TLC offers up more juicy details (read: more evidence) of the crime. Officials in Utah insist they were watching Brown’s activities even before TLC came to town, and, now that the state’s worst-kept secret has been exposed for the whole nation to see, the Utah county prosecutor has begun an “official investigation.” Too bad it takes TV exposure to launch an inquiry.
Mostly I wonder about the Brown children and how the glare of all this national attention will affect them in the long run. And, I wonder if executives at TLC are secretly hoping for a ratings-grabbing arrest scene for their Daddy? Wow, that sure would drive eyeballs to the channel!
Earlier in the decade, another Utah resident thought it wise to go on national television--on programs like "Sally Jesse Raphael," "Judge Judy" and "Dateline"--to literally brag about his polygamist lifestyle. Tom Green was part of a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon group, and he eventually took seven wives and had more than 30 children. After numerous TV appearances during which he nearly dared state officials to try to prosecute him – they did. He was ultimately convicted on several counts of bigamy, one count of failure to pay child support and later he was tried and found guilty of one count of child rape for having sex with his 13 year old “bride.” She gave birth to their first child when she was 14. Green spent six years in prison.
As defiant of the law as Kody Brown has been it seems highly unlikely that his case will go the way of Tom Green’s. First, Brown didn’t take any underage brides. Second, there’s no hint of any child endangerment among his seemingly happy and well cared for children. And third, Utah prosecutors have declared that they simply don’t have the manpower to prosecute cases like Brown’s. Guess they only investigate if national TV shows embarrass them into it.
“Once a week or so I get a phone call asking why we don’t just round up all the polygamists,” Murphy told me. “But can you imagine? First, we’d have to build new prisons to hold them all. Then, we’d have to devise a whole foster care system to accommodate their children.” He’s got a point, I guess.
It’s been reported that the Brown family is looking to come out from the shadow of their situation and “looking for understanding.” I’m betting that the money they make from the now-renewed second season series is also part of their motivation.
Janelle Brown, the mother of six of Kody’s children, told PEOPLE magazine she wants the criticism of her family and lifestyle to stop.
“If we raise productive, contributing members of society who are moral and ethical, that’s our final goal,” she said.
Gee, I thought abiding by the laws of the land was the moral and ethical way to live a life. Maybe I got that wrong.Tweet