'Sister Wives' Family on Going Public: 'We Knew What the Risks Were'

Polygamist family speaks out about bigamy investigation for the first time.

March 7, 2011, 11:42 AM

March 7, 2011— -- The polygamist family featured on TLC's reality show, "Sister Wives," said the criminal investigation into their lifestyle was a factor, among many others including finding a bigger house, in their decision to move from their home in Lehi, Utah, to Las Vegas, Nev.

"We didn't want this thing hanging over us," said Kody Brown, a salesman and the patriarch of the family. "We went to Vegas with hopes of having a good life, preserving the family. ... We never did anything here at all to be rebellious, to challenge the statutes of the law, or anything like that."

"We still have our family," Robyn, Brown's fourth wife, said. "That's all it boils down to."

Brown and his four wives -- Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn -- sat down with ABC News' Dan Harris on "Nightline" Monday to discuss how their family had been affected since going public as polygamists six months ago on national television.

It was the first time the five of them had talked at length about potentially facing bigamy charges back in Utah.

"We knew what the risks were," said Meri, Brown's first wife.

"You go from one fear to another," Robyn Brown said. "When you grow up in this lifestyle, you aren't able to completely be yourself. You do live in fear already, and you just go from one fear to another. We're just trading fears at this point."

"We try to do everything we can with the kids to just keep everything the same, keep the routines the same," Meri Brown added.

While the Mormon family could still face prosecution, a representative from the Utah County Attorney's Office said they still have not filed criminal charges against the Browns.

"I understood the concept of my faith," said Janelle, Brown's second wife. "It was more of my, like questioning society, questioning, like, is everything going to be OK?"

All five said they had mixed feelings about putting themselves and their 16 children in the spotlight, but had tried to maintain a positive attitude.

Robyn Brown Says Many Polygamist Families Are 'Afraid' of Being Exposed

"We did this to open up the minds of America and we did this to show our functional family," Robyn Brown said. "We just deal with it. We live with it."

Another positive reason for coming forward as polygamists, they said, was the chance to give their children a different life than some of the wives had grown up with.

"I grew up in a polygamist family and I felt fear," said Christine, Brown's third wife. "We were taught that we couldn't talk about our lifestyle ... and we were cautious of the police, but we haven't raised our kids that way. We haven't wanted our children to feel fear like that ... we just wanted something different for our kids."

When asked why other polygamists choose to stay in the shadows, Robyn Brown said many of them live in fear of being exposed.

"We sort of stepped into a very scary situation, you know, exposing ourselves," she said. "They're more afraid of their families being torn apart, or kind of afraid of, you know, losing their job, that kind of thing, and being ridiculed."

Police in Lehi, Utah, launched an investigation into the Brown family's lifestyle last September for a possible charge of bigamy after TLC initially announced the show, "Sister Wives." Bigamy is a third-degree felony in Utah and punishable by up to five years in prison.

The state law reads: "A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."

Kody Brown is legally married to one woman, Meri, but also calls the other three women his spouses.

As "Sister Wives" heads into its second season, premiering Sunday, March 13 on TLC, Brown and his wives said having their lives played out on camera has made their family more "functional."

"It's been very emotional work," Kody Brown said. "But what has been great about it is the family is communicating well now."

"There's been things we haven't talked about ever," Janelle Brown said. "Now we're having to face them and talked about it with each other."

'Sister Wives' Family Says Being on the Show Made Them Better Communicators

While pangs of jealousy between the women dominated season one, this time, all four agreed that watching how they interact on the show has been beneficial.

"It's made us girls tighter," Christine Brown said. "But I did not know I was such a diva princess."

Since the show first aired, all five said they have received many positive reactions from people in their community and strangers who have reached out to them through other means such as Facebook, but have also faced discrimination.

"My job, I absolutely loved," Meri Brown said. "When I came out as a polygamist, and you know, became public, I was fired. That being said, some of my friends that had no idea have been extremely supportive of me."

In the end, the Browns said they were glad they have at least raised awareness about their particular lifestyle and shown that even as polygamists they are a loving family.

"We started this so that we would hopefully open and create more tolerance in the world," Janelle Brown said. "I hope that's what we're accomplishing here."

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