Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good luck, Brown family

If you've been around here for a while, you might have caught that I have a bit of a weakness for certain kinds of reality t.v. And for some reason, polygamy has always been a topic that intrigues me. Not in an I want to try that kind of way. I just tend to watch news stories or movies about polygamy. And I've read the Jon Krakauer book and a book by a woman who escaped the Warren Jeffs group.

So, it naturally follows that I've watched every episode of TLC's "Sister Wives." I have been interested in learning about this family, getting a glimpse into their lives. Most of us picture the Warren Jeffs-type polygamists when we think of fundamentalist Mormons. The women with the weird hairdos and prairie dresses. The young girls being given away in marriage to creepy old men. The young boys being kicked out of the community and abandoned. But the Brown family isn't a member of that group. These are, for lack of a better way to say it, normal people, just like you and me. They just have different religious views on marriage. It's a view that wouldn't work for the vast majority of us (I know I'm not good at sharing), but it seems to work for them. It works well enough that they're comfortable putting themselves on television for all to see. Honestly, I have a lot of respect for them for being willing to put themselves out there so publicly as a way of defending their lifestyle and religious views.

They did so at a price, though. First, the family went through a publicized investigation by local police for suspicion of violating the state's ban on polygamy. While the husband is only legally married to one wife, the law in Utah still poses a problem for the family. The Utah polygamy law prohibits cohabitation in the guise of multiple marriages even if the husband has only one legal, state-certified marriage. So by holding himself out as married to 4 women, even though he's only ever sought one marriage certificate, Kody Brown is technically in violation of Utah law. Never mind that the whole family is happy, the kids are well-cared-for and well-adjusted, no one is committing welfare fraud, etc. The investigation stressed them out so much, they moved to Vegas.

Today, they made headlines for filing a lawsuit in Utah. (They haven't actually filed it, but are expected to do so on Wednesday). In the suit, the family is asking the federal court to tell states they can't punish families for their private, consensual conduct as long as the conduct isn't violating some other law, like seeking multiple marriage certificates. The argument builds on the 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas that declared states could not outlaw consensual sexual acts between consenting adults. That case was specifically focused on homosexual sodomy, but protected a broader right to privacy.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Browns. They aren't asking to have the other 3 marriages recognized by law. They're simply asking to be allowed to live in peace, as one big, happy family. The rest of us don't have to understand their choices or agree with their religious views. But we shouldn't tell them they can't live this way. We shouldn't tell them they're not a family. And we sure as hell shouldn't put the father in prison and separate the wives from each other just because we think it's a weird lifestyle. That would seem to be especially counter-productive here where the family seems to be supporting itself just fine, but would be financially crippled by putting Dad in prison.

I'm sure courts will be hesitant to do what the Browns ask. The public view of polygamy is so negative because we do think of the FLDS style of repressive polygamy much more than the "Big Love" style. Courts will likely not want to strip states of any power they have to put a stop to the child-bride style of polygamy. Even though anti-polygamy laws had nothing to do with the prosecution of Warren Jeffs. He and his followers were prosecuted on good, old-fashioned charges of rape. But I hope that a court can see that anti-cohabitation laws don't serve any good and do run afoul of the Lawrence v. Texas idea that consensual adult sexual conduct cannot be criminalized. Because this family shouldn't be treated like criminals. I will definitely follow this lawsuit.


Rob Osterman said...

What makes the issue of polygamy thorny from the state perspective is the issue of a "single" woman filing taxes as such, while sharing, greatly, in domestic costs. In short she gets tax breaks, or could, in theory, apply for welfare based on her single status.

That aside, must to the consternation of Mrs. A Teacher I do agree that what consenting adults chose to do behind closed doors should be the purvue of those said adults behind those closed doors. As long as everyone is free, morally, intellectually, physically and spiritually to say "no" and instead says "yes", then really, how are we to judge?

About the only role the justice system should have is in affirming that consent was affirmatively given rather than not withdrawn.... if that's the way to say what I want to say.

S said...

But lots of unmarried couples live together which still allows them to file taxes separately. Lots of people intentionally don't get married (or even divorce) so as to skirt tax implications. (To qualify for medicaid, for example.) So I'm not really sold on that being a justification for caring how many people are shacking up together.

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