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More Utah polygamists make their case on TV

Published September 13, 2013 12:03 pm

"My Five Wives" • Brady Williams, his wives and their 24 kids star in TLC special.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Williams family looks like a lot of Utah families.

They're trying to raise their children right. They're struggling with finances in the wake of the great recession. Some of them are worried about their weight.

And trying to balance everything when you've got a big family isn't easy. Particularly when you're talking about one husband, five wives, 24 kids, four dogs, four cats and assorted fish.

"It's not an easy lifestyle to live," said Robyn Williams, Wife No. 2 to Brady.

Brady, Robyn, Wife No. 1 Paulie, Wife No. 3 Rosemary, Wife No. 4 Nonie, Wife No. 5 Rhonda and their children are the stars of "My Five Wives," an hourlong special that's also the pilot for a potential series on cable channel TLC.

It's no surprise that the story of the Williamses, who live in central Utah, is reminiscent of "Sister Wives," TLC's series about Kody Brown and his four wives. Like the Browns, the Williamses are hoping that putting themselves on TV will make the public more accepting of polygamy.

"Sure, it's scary," Brady said. "But it's important to stand up for what's right. And it's right to allow consenting adults who are well-adjusted and not coerced to be able to share their lives and raise their children in a stable and loving environment."

Brady was raised mainstream LDS until he converted to fundamentalist Mormon when he was 16. All five wives grew up in polygamous families, and all of the adults say they hope the TV show will make growing up easier on their children than it was on them.

"I was always afraid that someone would find out that I was a polygamist," said Rhonda, "and I don't want my children to have that fear. I want to be open and make a better life for them that they didn't have to live under that."

"We just decided it would be a really good thing because we want to have equality for our kids and for us," Rosemary said.

The Williamses have "avoided going public," Brady said, turning down other chances to do so. "But this time we really felt like we could make a difference in a world in showing that our family is a high-functioning, normal family that's got a unique twist to it."

"Normal" might not be exactly the word for what viewers will see on Sunday. Most husbands don't have to keep five women happy and parent two dozen children. Most wives don't have to share their husband with four other women.

But what's most striking about "My Five Wives" is that, if you can look past that, the Williamses do seem pretty normal.

Not your average fundamentalist Mormons, however. The Williamses are sort of freelance polygamists at this point — they no longer belong to a specific church — and they pride themselves on being open and progressive.

"We differ from typical fundamentalists in that we have a little bit more liberal viewpoints," Brady said. "Certainly we believe in equality. We believe in love and acceptance as being paramount. And in a very inclusive, not exclusive God."

Brady is seen telling his children just that in Sunday's program. There's definitely an element of "we accept others, so others should accept us."

The Williamses have never hidden the fact that they're polygamists. Their employers and business associates know. Their kids' friends and teachers know.

"We've owned the fact that we're polygamists and we haven't hidden it from the school," Brady said. The family attends school functions together, and at parent-teacher conferences, "I sit at the table and go through three different children from three different mothers with the same teacher."

But it's a very different thing to go on national cable TV. Polygamy is still illegal in Utah, and other polygamists — including those on "Sister Wives" — have found themselves running up against the law when they went public.

The Utah County Attorney's office looked into filing bigamy charges against Kody Brown. It never happened, but the family moved to Nevada to escape the scrutiny.

"There is always that concern," Nonie said. "But when we want to make a change, sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone."

After much discussion, the Williamses determined "the benefits outweighed the risks," Robyn said. "It is frightening, but we felt we needed to be courageous enough to take that step."

And they're in it to win it at this point. They're very much hoping that "My Five Wives" is picked up as a series.

"Then we'd be able to go deeper into what a wonderful family we have and dispel some of these stigmas that are placed on polygamy," Brady said.


"My Five Wives"

The hourlong program airs Sunday on TLC.

On Comcast, it's at 10 p.m. and midnight on Channel 30.

On DirecTV, it's at 7 and 9 p.m. on Channel 280.

On Dish, it's at 7 and 9 p.m. on Channel 183.