Updated 5/8/13

On return to UNLV, TLC stars clash with former practitioners

Kody Brown from Sister Wives explaining his role in the show at the Marjorie Barrick Museum Auditorium on Thursday, April 25, 2013. PHOTOS BY PAULINA ZENG/THE REBEL YELL

The Browns are like any average American family. If every family consisted of four wives and 17 children, that is.

The Browns are polygamists living in Las Vegas, trying to paint a modern picture of plural marriage. In an attempt to denounce the negative stereotypes of polygamy, from sexual abuse to forced marriage, the Browns have put their every move on camera.

The stars of TLC’s Sister Wives, a reality television show centered around the Brown family, joined UNLV April 25 for a panel discussion. A crowd gathered in Marjorie Barrick Museum, curious to draw the curtain back from the life of the polygamous.

“The great thing about [polygamy] is that it was our choice,” said patriarch Kody Brown. He held his position during the panel in the center of his four wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn. Each time he spoke they looked at him in admiration.

The women were dressed in contemporary attire — high heels, black skirts and slacks and brightly colored tops. Their hair was blown out, their faces made-up and no bonnet in sight.

A member of the crowd stood up and asked if the women were looking to Kody Brown for permission before they spoke.

Meri Brown heatedly grabbed the microphone and said she looks at her husband because she loves him and when she wants to speak she will. The audience applauded.

Christine Brown’s aunt, Kollene Star, Kristen Decker and Willie Steed sat opposite the Kody Brown family, all three from polygamous backgrounds which they had abandoned.

“I didn’t want to share my husband,” Decker said.

Raised in a polygamous family herself, she felt she had to stay in her own marriage because of her religion.

“I was told that if I didn’t support my husband in plural marriage, then I wouldn’t be able to see my children in heaven,” Decker said. “It killed me when my husband left for his honeymoon with his new wife … I was thinking suicidal [thoughts] when I heard about the details of their honeymoon.”

Meri Brown, Kody Brown’s first wife, faced Decker and assured her that they wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t believe in it.

Kollene Star was raised in a polygamous community. She was emotionally abused as a child and claimed her mother was always unhappy. After enduring this pain for years, Star’s mother finally took the children and left. Star says she’ll never go back.

Star choked back tears as she remembered her days in high school.

“I was scared of anyone that wasn’t white,” she said.

She said she met an Indian girl in high school and was scared to touch her in case she got brown on her.

“No one ever treated me as nice as she did, not even in my home,” Star said, tears and mascara dripping down her face.

Willie Steed is the son of Warren Jeffs, former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault in 2011. Steed broke away from polygamy because he felt like he wasn’t growing in life.

“I’m still learning how to love someone,” Steed said.

Steed silenced the room with his memory of his mother and sisters.

“They were my reason for living,” Steed said.

He knew he had to leave from under Warren Jeffs’ lifestyle. Steed believes polygamy is wrong and is designed only to fulfill the selfish needs of the patriarch.

The Browns understand the abuse and problems that too often occur in polygamous families, but they make sure their family remains faithful and functional.

“Some families achieve a relative satisfactory family arrangement, others have simmering conflictual issues that have yet to be resolved, and still others are in a state of extreme dysfunctionality,” moderator William Jankowiak said.

Jankowiak has studied polygamous families for over 25 years and finds a wide range in the overall quality of family life. Contributing to the Brown’s success is higher education of the patriarch and matriarchs, a comfortable household wealth and a fortunate blending of personalities, particularly between the sister wives.

They chose this lifestyle and openly display it, unlike most polygamous families. Often wives are forced into plural marriage and children born into the practice. They live shrouded by the fear of being found out. But the Browns live the practice proudly.

Living in Las Vegas allows the Browns to be open about their uncommon lifestyle. Sin City is notorious for its population of interesting characters and has a philosophy of “anything goes.” Originally from Utah, they relocated because of prejudice. Meri Brown lost her job when they came out as polygamists, Kody Brown received threats from coworkers, and the family underwent an investigation for bigamy.

Today, polygamy is not unheard of in society, but its morality is often questioned. The Browns chose to show their successful story to the world, but they know they don’t represent the entire community.

Kody Brown said it has been a growing experience for him. He has learned to be selfless and patient — with multiple wives comes jealousy, conflict and self-doubt and the Browns are not immune to this. Janelle Brown admitted she’s experienced jealousy. But Kody Brown reassures her when she’s insecure, telling her he loves her and that he’s not going anywhere.

With 17 children and four wives, communication, said Janelle Brown, is the key to their success and happiness. Big and small decisions are made in family meetings — from deciding who will take the kids to practice to what marital paths their children will take when ready. The second wife hopes her children pick whatever suits them the best.

“Our children are free to make any decision they want when it comes to marriage,” Janelle Brown said. “Whether they want to be heterosexual, homosexual, monogamist or polygamist.”


  1. Marianne sherritt

    Poligamy is man made to afford the man money, most polygamous wives are on welfare and hand over their money to their husbands, plus a varity of sexual partners, someone different every night. Cody says it means more love, but only for him. He says jealousy is common and they have to work at that. Jealously breeds insecurity, low self esteem,one of the most destructive emotions there is. If you love someone you would ensure that your partner is secure in your love. Poligamy is the opposite of security. Cody is a con artist, he doesn’t work and has gone public about their life and reveals only what is superficial and not what is of most concern, money and sex.If you have noticed, they have several big houses and cars galore.yet no one works. I mean, let’s face it, are all the polygamists going to have reality shows to make a lot of money? He has exploited the media on a pretence of being honest and open but he is not. I was a mormon and I know how it brainwashes and threatens members with fear of the next life if you don’t do what your husband says. Your husband decides whether you go to the celestial kingdom, not god or Jesus or Mohamed. He decides if your good or bad. Can you believe that? Talk about inequality! Talk about unfair. His family is disfunctional no one works. Can you imagine how much baby bonus he gets a month with all those kids? Is any one on welfare? It is smoke and mirrors. I’ll bet he prefers having sex with one wife over the others. And that is why there is jealousy. And jealousy destroys any relationship. They deny that they are human. Disfunctional! Brainwashed. Uneducated. They are not happy except for the last wife. She feels special but she will deny that. Poligamy is illegal!! And there is a reason why that is so in a country where laws are based on Christianity and the bible. Otherwise there will be chaos.

  2. Jaycee

    We always speak of the women in polygamy as jealous, but to me it is the man who is jealous. After all, it is the men who think for a woman to have more than one husband is “gross.” Why? It seems they are the ones who are jealous and possessive. I find this “lifestyle” sick and a backlash against women. Religion has always been used as a tool to demean and control women in various ways. I’m going to found a religion and say my Goddess says I am allowed to have more than one husband. If you try to legalize polygamy, then it will go both ways, and you WILL have women who will have more than one husband as well. It is only a matter of time, as women are gaining more independence and education and the monetary means. I do feel for these women. I am fortunate to have a husband who loves me so completely and dearly, and would not demean me by even the suggestion of needing another woman to satisfy his needs. Likewise, I would never suggest the same. I hope these women gain the self-respect to abandon this “relationship” and see how wonderful it is to have a relationship with one man who cherishes YOU. If this is just about “expanding” love, then the women should be able to expand love as well. They should be able to “take on” another husband or in reality, have an affair. Cody isn’t all that, and trust me Cody, you are not going to heaven for cheating on your wife. You can say your god tells you that until you are blue in the face, but exploiting women doesn’t get you into heaven.

  3. Aaunt Gilian

    There are going to be as many reactions to polygamous marriage as there are people to react probably. Coming from Mormon background though, I have to say the garbage about widows and children is nonsense. My polygamous ancestors started all the way back in New York and every wife they took was increasingly younger than they none of them had previous marriages and the only children they fathered were from these polygamous fathers. If you want to say that you don’t practice or believe in polygamy now that is fine, but to polish up the “Patriarchs” with lies is immoral. The point of plural marriages was to produce a lot of kids to be future church members. Whether they were good people, bad people, or a mixture like most of us they practiced polygamy because they had the stature in the church and the freedom to do so. They didn’t pick 60 year old women to save them from being without a spouse.

  4. Sandy K

    Just because we are Mormon or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we do not believe in plural marriage. The old church had so called plural marriage only to have a home for widows and children. How sad the world is judging people, as only God can do that.

  5. mom

    I had trouble with this website. Sorry for all the mixed-up phrases in my comment. I thought I had my paragraph straightened out before I posted it. My main point is that the Brown women are no different from other fundamentalist mormon women, in that they are AFRAID to not practice polygamy. They really believe they have to do it to please God. There is no other true reason for what they are doing.

  6. mom

    “Janelle Brown admits she feels jealousy…” etc… People can keep trumpeting that this family is unique. Perhaps so. But the basic inequality of the arrangement will NEVER, EVER go away or be resolved. Of COURSE someone you are supposed to be married to would feel all kinds of very hard and troubling things if you took additional sex partners, moved them into the family home, and then just “reassured you that they love whatever, modern people. Each of these women deserves their own husband, if they so chose to you and are not going anywhere.” Ohh mess as you THINK you are not. These women are doing this because it is in their cultural experience to do so. They are mormons. Polygamy is part and parcel of original mormonism. The Browns have simply created a halfway situation for themselves to feel better about what they are doing- which is breaking important laws designed to protect women and children children. The Brown women are simply afraid to try to ever pursue monogamy, because they are convinced they will be punished by God if they do. This IS their belief. They cannot deny it. They believe Kody has additional rights and freedoms compared to the women simply because he is male. That’s a huge percentage of original mormonism, in a nutshell.

  7. Chris Nystrom

    There are plenty of people who are scarred from monogamous families, too, but that does not mean we should make monogamous relationships illegal. In fact making polygamy illegal only encourages abuses as described here as it forces polygamous groups to go underground and makes enforcement of legitimate crime more difficult. Lastly, not all polygamous people are Mormon.

  8. Karen Siegrist

    Thank god for people who will stand up to all these cowards and creeps. We haven;t seen our daughter and her family for many years no as she is in a cult based in Toronto and run by a criminal by the name of Fred King. Someday he and I will come face to face and I hope I will be able to convey to him all the damage he has done to our whole family. He is a criminal and a pedafyle and should be behind bars.

    • WiccanWoman

      Maybe his time is up, Karen!

      http: // trial-date-set-for-prophet-fred-king/

  9. Karen Siegrist

    As the Mother, Grandmother and Greatgrandmother of a family living in a cult in Toronto, Ontario Canada, I feel sick everytime I hear of people like the Browns. My Granddaughter was made a Church wife at the age of 10 and has had one or more children to the creep known as the Prophet Fred King. He is a disgrace to humanity and I hope someday to meet him face to face so I can pass on my revulsion to him. We haven;t seen our family since this creep took over from his father, also a creep. I was raised in a religion based on truth and love so why do these cowards always hid behind religion and get away with it. Thank you for letting me voice my feelings.

  10. Rebecca Kimbel

    Kody and I share affiliation in AUB, a common maternal granfather and Christine is also related to me. Funny how easy it is to deny our “Faith” requires polygamy, women who refuse are condemned to eternal damnation. They loose their salvation, their children and their families. We all follow the SAME doctrine, even those in Centenia Park. Fear is presented as faith. No woman dare denounce polygamy if she wants to save her soul and we call that FREEDOM of CHOICE. Follow the doctrine and you will find coersive degridation of women hiding under the cloak of religion. Joe Darger is married to my twin nieces. This also applys to their “faith” in the AUB, where we were all endoctrinated.

  11. sill

    will be destroyed by God if they refuse to live polygamy, they would never do it. Subtle, and not so subtle emotional and religious coercion is at the root of most polygamous arrangements. I hope that the unsuspecting will not be sucked in by the Brown propaganda machine.

  12. Ed Kociela

    As the author of ‘plygs,’ which I researched for 16 years before writing, I applaud the work of Kristyn Decker who so accurately points out that real-world polygamy is nothing like “Sister Wives,” “My Three Wives,” or “Big Love.” Polygamy must be taken in full context, not just the sexual preference issue. There is welfare fraud, the denigration of women, and, of course, the sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls.

  13. Nancy Mereska

    I applaud Kristyn Decker for standing up to the Brown’s. Stop Polygamy in Canada Society disagrees with families like the Brown’s putting on such a glossy front. Kristyn has not only written a book about her “Fifty Years in Polygamy: Big Secrets and Little White Lies” she has formed a coalition, Sound Choices Coalition, of which, Stop Polygamy in Canada Society is proud to be a part. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in the United States are just as negligent in their duties to prosecute polygamy as they are in Canada. Those who think polygamy should be legalized need to look at the great riots of France and England in the last half-decade. Groups of fatherless youth, living in poverty, forming gangs and rioting. Many of these fatherless youth are products of polygamy. The Brown’s have “earned” thousands of dollars for their public tv portrayal of their under the law criminal lifestyle. Not so with the average polygamous situation. Do we want North America to suffer the problems of France and England in the near future? Apathy breeds trouble!

  14. Jancis M. Andrews

    Please ask this polygamous family what they do to protect themselves financially. Only the first–therefore legal– wife and her children are entitled to share in her husband’s health insurance, dental insurance, medical benefits, life insurance, pensions, etc. The remaining women and their children are not protected and face poverty. What happens to the group’s assets should one “wife” want to leave? Do they give her a fifth share? Has this group even discussed these serious drawbacks to their “marriage?” These women are nothing but concubines in Kody’s harem, and are therefore second-class citizens. Someone should tell them that the year is 2013 AD, not 2013 BC, and that they don’t have to fear they can’t run a household without the help of other women.By the way, does Kody ever give a hand with the household chores, such as washing the dishes? Or does he rely on his harem of four women to do the job for him?


Add a Comment