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In 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. Most keep their way of life a secret out of fear of prosecution, although over the past 10 years an advocacy group made up mostly polygamous women has worked to educate the public and state agencies in Utah and Arizona about the culture.

The Browns have long said they believed making their life public on cable television was a risk worth taking if it helped advance the broader understanding of plural families. The lawsuit appears to be an extension of that belief.

“There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families. We only wish to live our private lives according our beliefs,” Kody Brown said in a statement released through Turley. “While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy.”

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Jennifer Dobner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/JenniferDobner