The stars of a controversial new TLC television show are gearing up to help change America’s idea of the family, encourage an end to what they call “discrimination” and promote legal acceptance of a new definition of marriage.
But this Utah family is not concerned about redefining marriage as between two men or two women, but as between one man and two, three, four, or more women.
“I just fell in love, and then I fell in love again, and then I fell in love again,” says Kody Brown, a fundamentalist Mormon, in a sneak peek at the upcoming show. Brown considers himself to have three wives: Meri, Janelle, and Christine, and is planning to marry a fourth, Robyn, whose trials learning how to become a member of the “sister wives” appears to form the series’ focal point.
“I knew it would be complicated, but I didn’t know it would break my heart,” said Robyn in the official season preview. But, she says in a later clip, “The wives, they work together as a team, and I want to be a part of that team.” The first three women have borne Brown 12 children; Robyn will bring three more from a previous marriage.
While “Sister Wives” is the first reality TV show examining the life of a polygamous household, it was preceded in 2006 by HBO’s ongoing fictional drama “Big Love,” which follows a Utah polygamist household of one man and three women.
The stars of the new series hope the show will be an opportunity to “come out of the closet” and promote their way of life: Kody Brown told the New York Daily News that “Part of our reason for ‘coming out’ is it’s a story that needs to be told.”
“By telling the story and not getting acceptance, necessarily, but lowering the prejudice, it helps all of society understand it,” he said.
Brown also framed his trouble with the law as a violation of his “civil rights” in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last year. “In the past, polygamists have had to be secret due to the threat of indictment or expulsion from work. Our civil rights got thrown out a long time ago,” he said.
In an August interview with the Tribune, Bill Hayes, president of Figure 8 Films and co-executive producer of the show, called the husband and four women “very much a modern family.” “They are open-minded. They are generally adorable,” said Hayes. “They have an unusual lifestyle, but for them, it was their lifestyle.”
Proponents of polygamy, although essentially outlaws in almost all of North America, have recently made headway in gaining acceptance of the practice as a legitimate form of marriage. In a 2007 episode, talk show host Oprah Winfrey invited members of polygamous households to advocate their way of life on her program.
“This is a big step for people to look in and say, ‘You know what? Yes, [plural marriage] may not be my personal choice, but it is a choice,’” said a Maryland businessman identified only as Richard, who says he has three wives, on the show.
Valerie, a woman in another polygamous relationship, told Winfrey that “It can be hard when a wife goes out the door with your husband.” “We have had jealousies and there have been those times and we can’t sugarcoat it and say that, ‘Oh, it’s so perfect and we love it and we love everyone.’ You know, we all have our hard times just like any other people,” she said.
However, Valerie contended that polygamy ought to be decriminalized. “I feel like I should have the right to live this way when this is a world of such alternative lifestyles.”
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