In 2011, the Sister Wives Blog started out as a place to talk about the TLC reality show "Sister Wives", Kody Brown and his wives Christine, Robyn, Meri and Janelle. Today we not only discuss the show, we discuss Polygamy in our society, and the public perceptions of the Mormon Religion. We discuss "Polygamy USA" and will be covering "My 5 Wives."
This blog is geared towards the adult reader, so please, no one under the age of 18 years. Thank you!
Polygamist Cody Brown’s PR stunt this past week was brilliant for the ratings of “Sister Wives” because the federal courts will never legalize polygamy. Brown purports to take advantage of the changing legal landscape over gay marriage and also the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court gave a nod of approval to two adult men who enjoy sex in the privacy of their own home.
Despite the legal changes to contemporary sex relations among adult partners, the practice of polygamy does not fall within this scope of progressive social change.
I noted in my book Sexual Deviance and the Law: Legal Regulation of Human Sexuality that polygamy is not merely a liberty interest in living with multiple partners. If that were the case, the state should not, and likely would not, interfere.
Rather, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada states, polygamy is criminogenic and spawns numerous forms of secondary criminal activity. Reid, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wants polygamist communities to be federally indicted as racketeers like the mafia or Hells Angels, organizations and entities which engage in a chronic, systematic pattern of criminal offending.
Cody Brown, et al., will claim innocence, but history tells us that polygamist households inevitably run terribly afoul of the law, where the same cannot be said of gay marriage or homosexual sodomy. Marriage to one spouse, but having sex with someone else, is legally and morally referred to as adultery and a precursor to domestic strife.
Infamously, some polygamists take underage brides and engage in statutory rape or actual rape. When cousins are involved, incest statutes apply. These are only the obvious manifestations of harm. Other forms of criminality include conspiracy to engage in child abuse, rape as an accomplice, and attempted sexual abuse. Non-sex-related offenses include welfare fraud, income tax evasion, and child neglect and abandonment.
With this litany of trouble, it is little wonder why very few reasonable people empathize with Cody Brown’s argument that sex by consenting adults in the privacy of their own home should be legal. The courts aren’t quite so gullible as to frame the issue so compactly.
For example, the Texas court system is not representative, but the polygamists on trial for sex-related crimes at the YFZ Ranch have been convicted effortlessly and received stunningly long sentences. (In 2010, polygamist Merrill Jessop was sentenced to 75 years in prison for consensual sex in a spiritual marriage with a minor.)
In sum, the idea that adults should be able to do what they want in the bedroom without intrusive state interference is attractive and comports with recent legal changes in sex law and politics.
However, the dynamics of a polygamist household extend well beyond the surface appeal of liberty and privacy interests. Polygamist communities are notoriously criminogenic, and if the U.S. Supreme Court ever takes a case like Cody Brown’s, it will be to soundly uphold the current prohibitions rather than to make any change in support of plural marriage.