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Sister Wives’ clan finds accepting home in Las Vegas

Plural-marriage family made famous by TLC leads forum at UNLV


Christopher DeVargas

Kody Brown, center, is flanked by two of his four ‘Sister Wives,” Christine, at left, and Meri, at right.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 | 1:49 p.m.

The Kody Brown Family

The Kody Brown family, from left, Christine, Janelle, Kody, Robyn and Meri. Launch slideshow »

Plural marriage is not for everyone, but it can be a healthy and happy one, according to the Kody Brown family, stars of the TLC reality show "Sister Wives."

Kody Brown and his four wives – Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn – spoke frankly about their plural marriage, family and life in Las Vegas at a panel discussion Monday night at UNLV. About 300 people attended the event, which was co-sponsored by UNLV's Office of Civic Engagement and Diversity, and the Office of Diversity Initiatives.

The panel discussion was borne from a family and marriage counseling class taught by UNLV assistant professors Markie Blumer and Coreen Haym. The licensed therapists and teaching assistant Ashley Tybor invited the Brown family to speak to the larger UNLV community after they spoke to three psychology classes as part of a student project.

"Everyone's house is different," Blumer said, whether it's because of sexual orientation or cultural, economic and religious backgrounds. "We believe it is a community value to welcome diversity in all its forms."

There are more than 850 societies around the world that practice polygamy, and an estimated 30,000 or more plural families living in the United States, Blumer said. However, because of a negative cultural stigma and legal concerns, most plural families live largely in secrecy.

When the Brown family came out to their monogamous friends relatives some 20 years ago, it strained relationships and broke some bonds.

The Browns also suffered repercussions when their family made national headlines after "Sister Wives" first aired. Meri lost her job, Kody lost a couple of advertising clients and Robyn had a difficult time finding work.

For a couple of years, the family also faced legal prosecution. That was a major reason why the Browns relocated to Las Vegas, where they felt the diversity of the city would welcome them.

"We've found grace in Sin City, where there's a lowering of hypocrisy," Kody Brown said. "In Las Vegas, you feel like you can own who you are."

During the two-hour discussion, the Browns touched on a variety of topics, from what it's like to be a sister wife to differences between Fundamentalist Mormonism from other sects in the Mormon faith. The Browns also shared their views of what it means to be a feminist in a plural marriage and how they empathize with proponents for gay marriage.

"I believe that I was able to choose our family structure," Kody Brown said. "It should be the right of every citizen in this country to be able to choose their family structure."

The family also shared the decision to come out about their plural marriage.

"I felt like there were so many stereotypes about plural marriages," Kody Brown said. "When I talked with my children about doing the show, I said we have an opportunity to not only change our world, but to change the world for everyone else."

Monday night's discussion was taped by the producers of "Sister Wives," presumably for inclusion in a future episode. After the discussion, the family met with UNLV students and took pictures with audiences members.

Family members said they enjoyed coming to speak at UNLV, adding they were impressed with the caliber of questions asked. Monday night's event was the family's largest public speaking engagement and their first major one in Las Vegas.

"I liked how (the audience) was very open-minded and respectful," Christine Brown said. "It was wonderful."

The Brown family has spoken at universities before, primarily in Boston. It's a inviting environment for the family because of the open atmosphere, Janelle Brown said.

Many audience members seemed to enjoy the panel discussion as well, laughing and applauding with the Brown family. The student union ballroom, the event venue, was packed.

Las Vegas resident Tracy Enriquez, 47, watches "Sister Wives" regularly and said the show changed her views on plural marriage. Seeing the family in person solidified her views, she said.

"At first, I thought it was crazy, but when I saw how much they love each other, it kind of changed my views," she said. "If they don't force people into their lifestyle, I don't see anything wrong with it. I respect them."

UNLV senior Rebecca Koonce, 23, said the Brown family was relatable. As a part-time nanny, Koonce said she could see the benefits of having more than one mother around for childrearing.

"It takes a village to raise a family," she said. "This was a cool way to see the reality of how plural marriage works."

UNLV senior Megan Kolvenbach, 20, said she was a "huge fan" of the Browns and their show.

"Their family is really inspirational because they draw attention to the multiculturalism that exists in families," the psychology major said. "It makes you appreciate diversity more, that there are other forms of family as well. It was very insightful."

Kolvenbach added she appreciated how welcoming the UNLV community was to the Browns.

"That's what I love about UNLV, we're so diverse," she said. "I feel bad (the Browns) got kicked out of Utah, but I'm glad they came to Las Vegas and can make themselves feel comfortable here. I just think it's great."

About 'Sister Wives'

    The popular "Sister Wives" show – now in its third season – chronicles the day-to-day life of the Browns, a Fundamentalist Mormon family that is composed of Kody, his four wives and 17 children.

    Kody is legally married to only Meri, but he has a spiritual marriage with his other three wives. Kody has been married to Meri for 22 years, to Janelle for 19 years, to Christine for 18 years and to Robyn for two years.

    The Brown family moved two years ago to Las Vegas to escape Utah's more stringent law banning polygamist marriage. Utah authorities began investigating the family soon after the show premiered in September 2010. The family was fighting the criminal ban in court until the case was dropped this past summer.

    Since moving to Las Vegas, the Browns have a new family business selling jewelry, clothing and their book, "Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage." Their eldest son Logan is a freshman nursing student at UNLV.

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  1. mrlucky,

    Can you provide some factual information with credible sources to back up your opinion?

  2. Isn't this illegal in the state of Nevada? If it is why is he not in jail?

  3. GoBruins,

    It is illegal in this whole country.

    In Jail? Is he and his wives a threat to the general public? Also, why just "he". Seems to me the wives are also involved here.

    Sneaking across the border is also Illegal but that does not seem to matter.

  4. Is what illegal? A man living with a woman he isn't legally married to? Nope, that's not illegal. A man having children by someone he isn't legally married to? Still legal. A man and his wife living with multiple unrelated women? Nope, that's not illegal either, else the Hef would never come to town.

    Until they outlaw cohabitation, the Browns have nothing to worry about here.

  5. "...because of a negative cultural stigma and legal concerns, most plural families live largely in secrecy. . . . ."I believe that I was able to choose our family structure," Kody Brown said. "It should be the right of every citizen in this country to be able to choose their family structure."

    Brown raised some excellent points. I'm descended from Mormon polygamists. This republic's founding documents support plural marriage along with other non-approved forms. The Declaration of Independence listing "the pursuit of happiness" as an "unalienable right." Our state's Constitution starts off with Article I, Section 1 "Inalienable rights. All men are by Nature free and equal and have certain inalienable rights among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty; Acquiring, Possessing and Protecting property and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness[.]" All laws and rules proumulgated by government must first be in harmony with these bedrock principles to be lawful.

    Along with gay marriage I'm thrilled to see this country looking harder at the legitimacy of requiring state licensing of such important and intimate relationships. Constitutionally it's indefensible.

    "mrlucky, Can you provide some factual information with credible sources to back up your opinion?"

    "GoBruins, It is illegal in this whole country. In Jail? Is he and his wives a threat to the general public? Also, why just "he". Seems to me the wives are also involved here."

    vegaslee -- I'd like to know too about mrlucky's sources besides his imagination. And for GoBruins good answer -- I endorse

    "People need to understand that polygamy is NOT "sister wives" and "big love". UT, AZ, TX and other states "turn a blind eye" to true polygamy where children (girls as young as 12) are married off to much older men....."

    CaboCara -- unless those forming those unions freely consent and define their own family structures, which they are certainly at liberty to do. You decry girls marrying "as young as 12" yet under the common law they were free to do so. Even the U.S. Supreme Court in its mid-1800's Meister v. Moore found nothing wrong with a 13 year old girl marrying without parental consent. In much of the world under Islam and Judaic law -- derived from the Bible's Old Testament -- a girl is eligible for marriage at the onset of menses. What your post described is little more than the corruption when institutions interefere, whether government or religion.

    "Indifference to personal liberty is but the precursor of the State's hostility to it." -- United States v. Penn, 647 F.2d 876 (9th Circuit, 1980), Judge Kennedy dissenting

  6. "It's Adam & Eve, not Adam & Meri & Janelle & Christine & Robyn. Protect the sanctity of marriage."

    wordofgod -- your post epitomizes everything wrong with marriage and religion. But thanx for posting it -- you proved religion and its evil minion, "Focus on the Family," are the enemy of liberty.

    "Religion is the opium of the people" -- Karl Marx from the introduction of his 1843 "Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"

  7. If they are collecting one dime in government assistance, I think they should be prosecuted for fraud. Otherwise, I have no problem with it.

  8. "It only takes 30 seconds to find 100 articles talking about the MANY "sister wives" collecting government money. He is one of hundreds of such articles---GET A BRAIN!"

    mrlucky -- you've painted this family with the broad brush of your prejudice. You should instead take your own advice about that thinking organ

    "If they are collecting one dime in government assistance, I think they should be prosecuted for fraud."

    vegasbike -- why should they be any different than any other family collecting such assistance?

    "If the exercise of constitutional rights will thwart the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system." -- Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 490 (1964)

  9. "Protect the sanctity of marriage. "

    That ship has sailed. Most "regular"marriages end in divorce. Most people in "regular" marriages CHEAT.

    That is a great sound bite when trying to get your way but sorry, the "regular" married people pretty much have destroyed the sanctity of marriage.

    I have no use for more than one wife, the one I have is all I need and can handle but I don't see that it is my right to tell others how to live their own life if it is not intruding on mine.

  10. "We believe it is a community value to welcome diversity in all its forms." - Diversity in all it's forms means no community values at all. If people can just do whatever with whomever and others are not allowed to express an opinion against it, lest they be called "intolerant", then you don't have diversity you have a perversion of diversity.

  11. "...honestly, if you can't commit to one person and get married, then don't get married."

    abdrgnldy -- the point of all this is emphasizing these people are free to commit to whomever they wish. And so are the rest of us. So long as nobody is hurt your problem would be what exactly?

    "Diversity in all it's forms means no community values at all."

    RichardDean -- apparently you're in favor of the herd dictating what people do in private. Like those among us with dark skins staying on their own side of town, etc. I suggest you look up Jim Crow.

    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac H Tiffany (1819)

  12. <<Sorry, but all I see is a man who can't commit to one woman...>>

    I agree. And I see a bunch of women who have no self-esteem or self-respect (and of course, they would NEVER admit that they have no self-esteem or self-respect - they will just laugh and smile and show everyone how "happy" they are). And WHY would they want to share a man that they allegedly have feelings for with other women?? And live in the same house???

  13. Have no earthly idea why this is such a big news story. He is only legally married to one of the women. Just lives with the others as well. So it's not really salacious after all. Sorry.