‘Sister Wives’: Kody Brown and His Wives Explain Why They Felt Like ‘Second-Class Citizens’ in Utah

Kody Brown of TLC’s Sister Wives famously led his four wives and many children out of their hometown of Lehi, Utah, during the show’s first season, in order to move to Las Vegas. The Browns have since moved a second time to Flagstaff, Arizona. They have always maintained their hasty exit from Utah was due to religious persecution.

The Brown family’s decision to go public with their practice of polygamy, or what they refer to as plural marriage, in 2010 prompted the state of Utah to launch a criminal investigation. Bigamy has long been illegal in Utah due to conflicts between the state and fundamentalist Mormon sects that practice polygamy.

In 2020, due in part to advocacy from activists like the Browns and the Darger family, the punishment for the practice of bigamy was drastically lowered – from a felony to a mere infraction.

In a sneak peek for the upcoming Feb. 28 Sister Wives episode, Kody and his wives reflect on their time in Utah and why they felt so stigmatized there.

George Stephanopoulos with Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, and Christine Brown of TLC's 'Sister Wives' on 'Good Morning America' in 2011
George Stephanopoulos, Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Janelle Brown, and Christine Brown | Ida Mae Astute/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Kody admits he’s glad he didn’t move the family back to St. George

After a road trip to visit Joe Darger and his three wives (Vicki, Valerie, and Alina Darger) in Utah, Kody and his wives unpack their visit in a new Sister Wives sneak peek on TLC’s official Instagram. Kody says he’s glad they don’t live in St. George, Utah, where they heavily considered moving in 2018.

The dad of 18 explains that St. George is a city in southern Utah with a strong community of polygamists, or “plural families.” The area also has many members of the Brown family’s religion, the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB), a sect of fundamentalist Mormonism. He says he “dreamed” of moving there after living in Las Vegas – which the Browns enjoyed, but found a little too racy for their tastes.

“This is where we get to say, ‘I told you so,’” Kody’s first wife, Meri Brown, jokes, reminding him that all four wives were against the idea.  

Kody’s second wife, Janelle Brown, echoes Meri’s comment. She tells TLC producers that she and her sister wives were completely against the idea of living somewhere where they felt unwanted.

“When Kody first brought up the idea of moving, he says now that he secretly wanted us to move to St. George,” the Sister Wives star says. “And we were like, ‘No. We’re not moving back to a place where we’re second-class citizens and where it’s illegal.’”

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The ‘Sister Wives’ patriarch says the Brown family is ‘better off’ out of Utah

The Darger family worked hard for years to fight against anti-bigamy laws in Utah. Under Utah state law, polygamy was considered a felony even when a husband was only legally married to one wife and when all spouses were consenting adults. Although the law changed in 2020, it’s still technically illegal to practice polygamy in the state.  

“When these anti-polygamy laws come up, the reminder that we’re second-class citizens, if citizens at all, in the state of Utah, really reminds me that I’m glad we’re not there,” Kody tells Sister Wives producers in the preview clip. “They don’t honor the decision we have made as adults. They won’t honor that or even respect it. They criminalize it.”

Despite his nostalgia for Utah, where he lived with his wives for many years, Kody now agrees that they are “better off” in a different state.

Robyn Brown remembers being bullied as a child because of her polygamous family

Kody’s fourth wife, Robyn Brown, agrees that living in Utah wouldn’t be feasible at this point.

She says she remembers being bullied as a child in Utah because her father had more than one wife. The Sister Wives star recalls “both teachers and kids” making fun of plural families, especially after accusations against Warren Jeffs – the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS – came rolling in.

Robyn says she would love to live in Utah now, as an adult. But she isn’t willing to subject her children to the possible “rejections” and “prejudices” that still might go along with coming from a polygamous family in parts of Utah.