Kody Brown's Family on the Cover of The New York Times

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Kody Brown's Family on the Cover of The New York Times


Polygamy as Lifestyle Choice, and a Reality TV Brand

LAS VEGAS — Kody Brown, his four wives and 17 children want to be the new face of polygamy, what
some consider the next frontier after same-sex marriage.

That is why, the Browns say, they invited TLC television cameras into their homes for their reality
show “Sister Wives,” why they have written a best-selling book about their lives, and why they challenged
Utah’s polygamy ban in federal court.

Fear of prosecution under that law led them to flee to Nevada. Last month, a federal judge partly
overturned the ban, ruling that prohibiting “cohabitation” violates the First Amendment guarantee of
free exercise of religion.

In their first interview since the decision in that case, they presented a family whose polygamy is
more “Father Knows Best” than fundamentalist patriarchy. It was also clear that going public opened a
path toward wealth.

Their four new houses arranged on a Las Vegas cul-de-sac and their television handler are testament
to the fact that the Browns, who once fought penury, have turned their cause into a minor industry.
They promote their family arrangement as part of a growing wave of individual lifestyle choices,managing to anger both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which abandoned polygamy in
1890, and to some extent their own Mormon fundamentalist offshoot, the Apostolic United Brethren.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the mainstream church, said polygamists, “including those in reality
television programs,” have “no affiliation whatsoever” with the church, “despite the fact that the term
‘Mormon’ is sometimes misleadingly applied to them.” Of the lawsuit, he said, “The current legal efforts
will have no bearing on the doctrines or practices of the church.”

As for the Browns’ own church, it promotes polygamy but does not condone homosexuality, and its
leaders have quietly suggested that they are uncomfortable with the way the decision in the Browns’
lawsuit has been held up by some same-sex marriage advocates as supporting the underlying issue of
personal privacy.
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