“Sister Wives” presents another kind of alternative family


OK, kids, I need your help. I honestly don’t know what to think about TLC’s new reality show Sister Wives.

If you live in Utah or watch Big Love, you can guess what it’s about. Sister Wives features the Browns, a fundamentalist Mormon family that includes one husband and four sister wives. (I realize that they are technically not Mormons, but that’s what they call themselves.)

It’s the story of a man named Kody, who was busy with three wives of his own: Meri, Janelle and Christine. After 15 years, he took a fourth, Robyn. “I just fell in love and I fell in love again,” he told TCA critics. Between them, they have 13 children — living all together in a Utah home. When Robyn joins them, the total kid count will be 16.

The sister wives are just as happy as can be to be a part of the Brown Bunch. They feel like sharing family responsibilities gives them more freedom than wives in traditional families.

New wife Robyn explains their living arrangements:

“There are three [wives] in one home with separate apartments and I’m separate right now. We’re hoping to be all in one home. I felt like the secretiveness of the society has been a little bit dangerous for the society, as well as the public. This is part of our reason for essentially coming out. This is a story that needs to be told. I think that by simply telling this story and not getting into prejudices it actually helps the society to understand.”

Of course, Meri is the only wife legally married to Kody. That’s how the Browns escape prosecution under Utah’s law against polygamy. As Kody says, “It’s one legal marriage and the rest are commitment marriages.”

Kody decided to do the seven-episode series because he hoped that seeing a real polygamist family would show the world that they have nothing to fear. "Part of the reason for coming out is not only gaining acceptance but lowering prejudice. We hope this helps to have all of society understand it."

Wife Christine adds "I just didn’t want to raise my children with the same fear that I was raised with," she told TVGuide.com. "I’d rather just be open."

The risk of persecution, if not prosecution, is great enough, however, that the Browns never reveal where exactly in Utah they live.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the horror stories about what happens to children in some polygamist sects gives me pause. But I certainly understand that society has a tendency to be hostile toward alternative families, so I am hesitant to be negative about it.

Interestingly, Robyn told reporters that they are not opposed to gay marriage. “My best friend is gay; we are open to that,” she said. “I teach my children that we are open to that.”

Obviously, these are not the folks who helped fund Proposition 8 passage in California. But what do you think of Sister Wives? Will you watch?

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