Laws are laws. You follow them and there's no problem. You break them and you'll likely go to jail, right?
Well...not so fast. In the state of Utah a person can admit felony behavior -- on national television, no less -- and no punishment occurs.
Even though Utah has one of the broadest laws against plural marriage, there are still an estimated 20 thousand 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.
Despite the Utah law that no man "shall marry, purport to marry or cohabitate with multiple wives" it is a crime that's rarely prosecuted 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 "is 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 cable TV's 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 yet another wife. His first three got together to pick out the new woman's ring. Everyone seemed content with the arrangement. Today, 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 T.L.C. offers up more juicy details (read that more evidence) of Brown's crime. Officials in Utah insist they were watching Brown's activities even before T.L.C. 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."
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 T.L.C. are secretly hoping for a ratings-grabbing arrest scene for their Daddy? Wow, that sure would drive eyeballs to the channel!
What a difference a few years makes. Several years ago another Utah polygamist went on national television to brag about his lifestyle. Tom Green was part of a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon group and he eventually took seven wives and had more than 30 children. During his numerous TV appearances he nearly dared state officials to try to prosecute him -- and they did. He was 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." Green spent six years in prison.
Kody Brown has been just as defiant as Tom Green. He goes public every week about details of his multiple marriages. Yet it seems highly unlikely that his case will go the way of Green's. First, Brown didn't take any underage brides and there's no hint of any endangerment among his seemingly happy and well cared for children. Also, Utah prosecutors have now declared they simply don't have the manpower to prosecute cases like Brown's.
"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. But I wonder why did the state bother to launch that "official investigation" of Brown then? Is that all for show too?
The Brown family says they want to come out from the shadow of their situation and are "looking for understanding." I'm betting the money they make from the now renewed second season of their 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.
Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site at: www.DianeDimond.com . Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi available through Amazon.com