Trials & Litigation

'Sister Wives' Lawsuit Can Go Forward, Federal Judge Says


A federal lawsuit challenging Utah’s bigamy law, brought by the stars of the TLC show Sister Wives, can go forward, says a U.S. district court judge.

The Utah action was filed by George Washington University Law School Jonathan Turley, on behalf of Kody Brown and his four wives. After their show aired, Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman publicly threatened to prosecute them, according to the Associated Press. Even though Buhman has yet to follow through, the family still have standing, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups wrote in his Feb. 3 order (PDF).

Utah’s bigamy law, the order states, makes it a crime for anyone who “has a husband or wife, or knows the other person has a husband or wife,” to marry or cohabitate with another person.

“The entirety of actions by the Utah County prosecutors tend to show either an ill-conceived public-relations campaign to showboat their own authority and/or harass the Browns and the polygamist community at large, or to assure the public that they intended to carry out their public obligations and prosecute violations of the law,” Waddoups wrote. That, he noted, had a “chilling effect” on the family’s First Amendment rights.

Waddoups’ order dismissed the Utah governor and attorney general as defendants. Both Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff have stated that Utah would not prosecute families like the Browns and instead focus on crimes in polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence and fraud.

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