Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Sister Wives": Turns out, Polygamy is Just as Boring as Monogamy

I meant that headline as a compliment, first of all.

Second, TLC's "Sister Wives" is my new favorite show. It tells the story of a guy called Kody Brown, who works in "advertising sales," and his three wives, Meri, Janelle, and Christine. They live in one large house that's divided into three apartments, so that each sister wife has her own place. Mr. Brown alternates spending the night with each woman.

But the wives don't do anything "weird" (Meri's word), like have three-ways or four-ways, or anything like that. They sleep with him one at a time.

They have twelve children plus one pending. There is one child with Meri, five with Janelle, and five plus pending with Christine.

The wives are pretty awesome. First, Meri is going back to school to study psychology, so that she can work with at-risk teenagers. She is also the home's designated "tooth puller." The show spends about five minutes watching Meri pull the teeth of a couple of the kids. I am not kidding about that.

Janelle  is even cooler than Meri. Janelle works (although the show doesn't tell us what she does or where she works), and she loves getting away from the house. Because it's full of family, for crying out loud. She has two sister wives, a husband, and twelve children. That's a lot of family. She is grateful to have a job that keeps her away from home 12 hours a day, and grateful that she has all those sister wives to help with the kids.

And then there's Christine. She's a bit eccentric. For one thing, check out the names of the kids she bore:

Aspyn, 14
Mykelti, 13
Paedon, 11
Gwenelyn, 8
Ysabel, 6

Truely is the one that's pending. They were going to name her just "Truely," but then her name would be "Truely Brown," and that sounds silly. So then they were going to name her something like "Truely Ann," but then her name would be "Truely A Brown," which is just as bad. So now they think they've settled on "Truely Grace Brown," which sounds pretty.

The woman who named her child "Paedon" is suddenly concerned about the names she's giving the kids. Ordinarily if I encountered a woman who had given her children those names I'd accuse her of pretension. But she's just so disarming.

Moreover, Christine, who grew up around polygamy, always wanted to be a third wife. Apparently, statistically, families with two wives that are experiencing troubles become more stable when a third wife is introduced. There is too much pressure being the first wife, because then you have to accept the second wife. Then the second wife is a sort of "wedge," and Christine didn't want to be a "wedge." So she always wanted to join a family that already had two wives. When she was single, if her suitors didn't already have wives, she wasn't interested.

Damn, this is a great show.

Oh, and Christine also doesn't keep a toaster in the house, because toasters kill more people every year than sharks. The show gets a lot of mileage out of that bit of information. And, yeah, it's funny, but Christine does have a point, especially given that they live in Utah. There aren't a lot of sharks in Utah. But there are a lot of toasters. You do the math.

The show also gets a lot of mileage out of watching the family to yard work together. Mr. Brown says that the family does a lot of yard work like that, and yet: (a) the yard looks a bit shabby, and (b) the kids seem to get tired and bored fairly quickly.

But I will let that pass, since there are cameras around. The kids might have been hamming it up, and Mr. Brown might have let the yard go so that the family would have something boring and "average, everyday family" to do when the cameras were there.

Mr. Brown wasn't raised to be a polygamist. He converted and became a fundamentalist Mormon in his early 20s, thanks in large part to Meri's father, who was a fundamentalist Mormon and polygamist himself. Polygamy is illegal in America, although Mr. Brown has said that they technically aren't breaking the law, because he's only legally married to the first wife, Meri.
Polygamy is illegal, but Kody explained that his family isn't breaking any laws since, "It's one legal marriage and the rest are commitment marriages. Like every other American family this takes everything we've got."
This brings up an important question. Marriage has traditionally been a religious contract, hasn't it? I don't understand why people feel a need to allow the government into their private lives at all.

Who I, or anyone else, becomes romantically involved with is none of the government's business. The government needs to get out of marriage altogether. What two or three or four or however many consenting adults do with themselves and each other is none of anyone else's business.

And are you worried about the kids? Doesn't it "take a village" to raise a child? The Browns are their own village. As Meri tearfully points out, when her own sister was dying of cancer, she had a sister wife to help take care of her, and of her children.

The show makes a point of showing that the kids are encouraged to do whatever they want to do with their lives. One of the sister wives even suggests she would be fine if her kids turned out to be atheists.

The show built slowly to what was teased throughout as "Kody's big announcement." I thought his announcement would be that they were going to be on a boring television show, but it was pointed out to me that the kids probably already knew that, since cameras had been following them around. As it turned out, the announcement was that Mr. Brown was going to ask another woman, Robyn, and her three children, to join their village-sized family.

Most of the Browns were okay with it, although some conceded it would be weird to have a fourth mother. That might take some getting used to.

As the episode concluded, we got a glimpse of the potential fourth wife, who was positively giddy about getting another date with her "soul mate." Mr. Brown hopes that Robyn will accept his proposal, as the wives aren't as jealous of another wife as they are of a girlfriend.

Whether or not Robyn accepts Mr. Brown proposal is kept up in the air. Unfortunately, police in Utah had to get involved and spoil it, by revealing that she apparently accepted his proposal:
The stars of TLC's new show Sister Wives are under police investigation in Utah for a possible charge of felony bigamy.

Police in Lehi, Utah, said Monday they began looking into salesman Kody Brown and his four wives before the show premiered Sunday.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, the evidence will be forwarded to the Utah County Attorney's Office for review and possible prosecution," says Lt. Darren Paul.

Police acknowledged that publicity over the show's announcement prompted the case. Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah but is rarely investigated.

Brown and his wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn have 13 children and three stepchildren. They say they will lead a lifestyle that they want, even if it means breaking away from tradition.
If the police are going to investigate the stars of reality shows, they need to put spoiler alerts on their press releases. They should have said, "The Lehi Utah police department will be investigating allegations that Kody Brown and his wives might be breaking state law, etc."

Now, the only suspense is "how will Robyn adjust to life as the fourth sister wife?" and "how will the rest of the family adjust to Robyn?"

Actually, those are pretty suspenseful questions.

Another question: If Mr. Brown is only officially legally married to the first wife, then why are the police in Utah investigating him? It turns out, the government has a surprisingly broad definition of the term "marriage."
Kody claims to have been married to his first three wives for the past 16 years, and he has children with each of them. [Defense attorney Greg] Skordas says this will make it easier to prosecute him.

“We normally do recognize common law marriage. Does the couple have children? Do they do things together as husband and wife? After a number of years, the court will recognize a common law marriage,” says Skordas.

And not one of these women or the man they say they are married to is shying away from showing the world how four women can be married to the same man.

“If I was advising this family about this TV show, I would certainly say, don’t flaunt polygamy in this state at this time,” says Skordas.

Skordas believes the Attorney General and the state’s attorney in Utah county is watching this show closely, and probably subpoenaing taped interviews of the adults.
So, if a man and a woman live together as "husband and wife," and have kids together, and if they call themselves "husband and wife," the government can say that you are married, if it decides to prosecute you for some reason.

What if Mr. Brown were living with four other men. What if Mr. Brown and these other men were calling each other "husband and wife"? What if they had children that they raised together?

Would the state of Utah be investigating them for polygamy then?

Do you see why the government has no business getting involved in the institution of marriage?

Like any great show, "Sister Wives" challenges you to consider why I am right about my outside-the-mainstream theories regarding personal relationships and my desire to get the government completely out of our private lives. For one thing, let's get the government out of marriage altogether. But if government is going to be involved in marriage, let's make the same rules apply to everyone.

And don't punish someone for following the letter of the law, just because you think what they're doing is weird.

They are happy and not hurting anyone else, so who cares?

And how could they not be happy? Look at their husband.

Sister Wives pic source.
Kody Brown pic source.


Penny said...

Hey just found your blog whilst I was google Kody Brown. Very interesting post!

I wouldn't choose this lifestyle but they do seems pretty happy. I think Kody might be on some uppers thought (joke!)

I was surprised to hear one of the wives say they weren't homophobic and had gay friends.

Also that they just want thier kids to be happy, the kids don't need to be into pulural marraige or be fundamental mormans.


Ricky Sprague said...

Penny, thanks for taking the time to comment, and to be so nice about it.

I agree -- the Browns do seem happy, and I think it's a waste of time and money to go after them for "polygamy."

They seem like a pretty normal family, there's just more of them.

Anonymous said...

Statistically the two-wife families are less happy than three-wife families? Really? You think there are stats on that? You're an idiot.

Ricky Sprague said...

And you are "anonymous." Way to go!

Anonymous said...

It was quite odd when Meri was speaking about how her dying sister relied upon a Sister Wife for support. While it's wonderful that the woman had such support in her final days, it is a little odd that her own sister (Meri) wouldn't be one to step in and provide such a familial bond. The Browns are raising more than a dozen children who seem to love eachother. But what is the lesson here? If something goes wrong in your life, girls, hopefully you're in a plural marriage and that woman can help you out? Because your own blood relations will be out populating and prioritizing their own broods?

Anne Schrader said...

Interesting post. I, too, think it's terrible that the government is messing with this happy family. They aren't hurting anyone.

If they're going to prosecute this guy for being with more than one woman (which is basically all he's done... there is ONE legal marriage), then let's start prosecuting men who cheat on their wives. Same thing, right?