- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY A polygamous family made famous by the reality TV show “Sister Wives” plans to challenge the Utah bigamy law that makes their lifestyle illegal, a Washington-based attorney said Tuesday.

In an email to the Associated Press, attorney Jonathan Turley said he will file the lawsuit challenging Utah’s bigamy law in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

Mr. Turley represents Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn. Mr. Brown is only legally married to Meri Brown.

Originally from Lehi, Utah, the Browns, who have 16 children, have been featured on the TLC reality show since the fall. They moved to Nevada in January after police and Utah County prosecutors launched a bigamy investigation. Charges were never filed.

The Browns practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs.

Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah. A person can be found guilty of bigamy through cohabitation, not just legal marriage contracts.

In a statement posted on his blog, Mr. Turley said the lawsuit will challenge Utah’s right to prosecute people for their private relationships.

“We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs,” the statement reads.

According to the statement, the lawsuit seeks to protect a person’s right to be left alone.

“In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values - even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state,” Mr. Turley wrote.

Mr. Turley said he believes the case represents the “strongest factual and legal basis for a challenge to the criminalization of polygamy” ever filed in the federal courts.

Utah has not prosecuted a polygamist for bigamy since 2001. Tom Green, who was married to five women and drew the attention of Utah authorities after promoting his lifestyle on national TV talk shows, was convicted on bigamy, criminal nonsupport and child rape charges. He spent six years in prison and was released in 2007.

Polygamy in Utah and across the Intermountain West is a legacy of the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons abandoned the practice of plural marriage in the 1890s as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

An estimated 38,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalists continue the practice, believing it brings exaltation in heaven.