Many fans were taken aback by Mariah’s decision to come out as her true self in 2017, then after further self-reflection, again in 2022. Her mom, Meri Brown, formerly married to her father, Kody Brown, struggled behind the scenes, but eventually supported Mariah’s decision. However, after both became less prominent in the show following Kody and Meri’s mutual decision to end their spiritual marriage, fans wondered what Mariah, now Leon or Leo, was doing behind the scenes. To understand the situation between Mariah and Meri, we must analyze what happened to them individually.
The two were close as a former mother-daughter pair, primarily because Mariah was an only child, while others had biological and half-siblings to bond. Additionally, Mariah was a tad older than most siblings and had different world views from some family members and their religion. Thus, she left the family to a degree after changing her pronouns and physical appearance. Mariah also became more open about her sexuality and opinions, yet a lot more private about other topics, which affected her relationship with Meri.
Mariah was an only child
Meri’s and Mariah’s tight bond started during her childhood. Meri was the first wife of Kody Brown, and married him in 1990 but divorcing in 2014 so that he could marry Robyn Brown and adopt her three children. She spiritually divorced him in November 2022. However, while Kody had 17 children with the other three wives, he and Meri shared a single biological child, Mariah Leanne Brown, born on 29 July 1995.
Although she grew up with one older child, Janelle’s son Logan Taylor Brown, born in 1994, and Janelle’s daughter Madison Rose Brush, born in 1995, it seemed like they never connected deeply. In hindsight, her family mostly didn’t take many of Mariah’s opinions, likes and dislikes seriously. Viewers speculate the show’s editing and her family’s conservative values reduced the effect Mariah wanted to have on the world.
She even had a “beef” with her half-brother Paedon Brown in 2020. Paedon, a US military member, posted an Instagram image supporting “Blue Lives Matter” as commentary and counter-movement on the peaking Black Lives Matter movement. Mariah and then-girlfriend Audrey Kriss took offense and felt he was negating or diverting the movement’s goal. They also indirectly mocked him for supporting Donald Trump, and Paedon fired back by bringing up Mariah calling home and crying. Although they stopped following each other on social media, Paedon revealed in early 2022 that, although they don’t see eye to eye, he would still give Mariah, who went by Leo then, a hug if they needed it.
Mariah came out as gay at 21
Mariah revealed she was lesbian in January 2017 and described herself as a ‘radical humanist.’ Although her parents were willing to listen, they wanted time to process the news. Meri and Kody accepted how she felt but were curious about when she realized she was attracted to girls. Both learned this was not a sudden realization; Mariah always knew but pushed it down because ‘her biggest fear was to be gay.’ Kody was the one to point out that accepting the news may be a bit difficult in their ‘polygamist but traditional family.’
Taking time to process Mariah’s development would be fine if Meri and Kody didn’t give worrying statements. Kody stated they were happy Mariah finally knew herself, but not with her being lesbian. Her mom disclosed that because she always wanted a son, she planned to “adopt” Mariah’s husband into the family and treat him like a son. In the end, Meri added, in a stressed and disappointed voice, ‘I looked forward to seeing who [the son-in-law] was going to be, you know, and that’s not going to happen!’
In contrast, Robyn, who was only in Mariah’s life for seven years, immediately understood and showed compassion. Moreover, she assured Kody and Meri this were happy news, saying, ‘All the things Meri thought Mariah would have in a husband-and-wife relationship she will have in a wife-and-wife relationship.’ Janelle similarly celebrated Mariah’s coming out and self-discovery. Her parents’ initial inability to accept her sexual orientation, and the fact that they felt blindsided when Mariah felt she gave enough signs, distressed and distanced her from them.
Although Kody and Meri were enamored by each other, calling the other ‘cute, pure, communicative, and romantic’ after meeting in youth, her fertility struggles took a toll on their marriage. Only three years after their legal marriage, Kody spiritually married Janelle, and they had six kids. That caused an emotional rift and a lack of intimacy that Meri revealed in 2021 began ‘about a decade ago’, meaning things were deteriorating in the early 2010s. Fans noticed things spiraled out of control in 2014, after Meri felt hurt that Kody wanted a legal divorce.
Meri started an online romance with a person she thought was a businessman named Samuel Jacob Copper in 2015. However, the person behind the profile was a fan, a woman named Jackie Overton. That situation upset Mariah greatly; she took a long time to forgive her mother; it seemed she was distressed that her mother was straying from her marriage. Another possibility was that Audrey resented her mother for staying in a marriage lacking love.
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Meri raised her daughter similarly to how she grew up, to abstain from physical intimacy, even kissing, before marriage, get married young and have children in a heterosexual marriage. Furthermore, Meri’s father, William, was also a polygamist. However, Mariah desired the freedom to love whomever she wanted without the pressure of marrying young and having many children, because tradition did not make things worthy.
All this became apparent years later when Meri supported her daughter’s sexual orientation, encouraged her to travel to Chicago for ‘a fun and different experience,’ then welcomed her with open arms in Utah, saying ‘disowning a gay child means you failed as a parent.’
When Mariah revealed she was lesbian, Kody remarked that their religion is conservative and traditional, implying they don’t look at homosexuality positively. Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) is a pro-polygamy Mormon fundamentalist sect that originated in 1830; many former members have commented on the church’s forms of prosecution of people of color, and LGBTQ+ members. Mariah disclosed that church members told her ‘being gay was wrong and that she was a bad person.’
Although the doctrine is complex and there have been openly gay Mormon bishops, LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is still changing. Therefore, some fans suspected Mariah didn’t dare to discuss her sexuality in the show, or wanted to avoid negative publicity. Whether Meri played a part in keeping things behind closed doors was never revealed, but she may have encouraged her daughter to re-evaluate her feelings or wait with the statement.
After all, while the church excommunicated the family in early 2010, deep-set beliefs were challenging to change, and the family may have feared how TLC, viewers, or their community would react.
A lot changed when Mariah shifted the goal of attending medical school, which she mentioned in the show as a kid and young adult. Instead, she graduated from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. There she met Audrey Kriss and began dating her in late 2016 or early 2017. Mariah’s education plans changed again, and she moved to Chicago, Illinois with Kriss, to attend graduate school and study social justice and social work at Loyola University.
After completing her education, Mariah returned to Utah but had new priorities, including attending people’s rights marches and rallies. She also influenced others; her moms, Meri and Janelle, came with her and Kriss to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in 2017, the first year it was organized.
After over two years of dating, Mariah proposed to Audrey at a Women’s March, and they decided to go back to Utah to be close to family. The COVID-19 pandemic foiled their marriage plans, and they have not discussed a date. Fans suspect they are waiting for season 18 of “Sister Wives” as a way to shine a light on their LGBTQ+ relationship.
However, much weirdness surrounded Meri’s abrupt suggestion to throw Mariah another engagement party at her bed and breakfast, Lizzie’s Heritage Inn, in Parowan, Utah. When Mariah said it was strange, Meri rebutted, ‘Mariah pretty much thinks anything I think is weird.’ However, after Audrey and her moms, Christine and Janelle supported the idea, stating that two brides need two engagement parties, Meriah softened up and eventually called the proposal cute.
On 28 June 2022, Mariah announced on Instagram that, after becoming ‘ready to share their favorite self with the world,’ they revealed they are transgender and will go by Leon and Leo and use the pronouns they/them. They added they were evolving from being raised ‘incredibly gendered and restrictive and socialized as a girl and a woman.’ Thus, they were discovering many new things to love about themselves. That caught many by surprise, but loyal fans spotted hashtags such as #protecttranskids during Pride Month in 2021 and Leo’s previous social media posts in favor of the rights of transgender athletes.
Additionally, Kriss announced in December 2021 that they were transgender and would go by Audrey but use they/them pronouns. They also underwent a “top” operation, i.e., the removal of their female breast tissue, in May 2022. Therefore, fans of the couple could see Leo changing behind the scenes. A physical change followed in late 2022, and Leon confirmed in January 2023 via TikTok they also had gender-reaffirming surgery and recovered well. Although Kody didn’t comment on the gender change, Meri was proud, stating Leo was her sunshine.
Although viewers were confused by many things when they happened, hindsight made the situation much more apparent. Meri had trouble understanding Mariah’s sexuality and definition of love, because of her own polygamist upbringing and early marriage. She also admitted she was told to be quiet about who she is, stay in a little box, and have as many children as possible.
Religion the family followed played a considerable role in Mariah’s suppression of her true self, as they assured her it was sinful to be gay. Moreover, she was scared to tell her conservative parents that she had an open-minded worldview on love. Mariah was also unreasonably upset by her mother’s catfish scandal in 2015 but never clarified why.
Luckily, things improved over the years because Meri found joy in Mariah’s sense of freedom and independence. During one episode, she remarked, ‘We’ve tried to create an atmosphere of, “You can do whatever you want to do,” for our kids, and she’s doing it.’ Additionally, she fully supported Mariah’s sexual orientation and eventual gender transition. Similarly, her other mom, Christine, praised Mariah and Audrey for having excellent communication, and ensuring they did everything possible to make each other happy.
— SOS/CTS/HH (@SoapOperaSpy) June 29, 2022
Meri and Leon are now closer than ever
Social media posts by the mother-son duo make it clear they have both moved on in the right direction, and have found love and acceptance for who they are. Meri split from Kody, and Leon has been engaged since 2019, and after hosting a second engagement party at Meri’s bed and breakfast, they may marry Audrey Kriss there or, at the very least, host a post-marriage celebration.
Both had worked on breaking the mold their upbringing imposed, became open-minded, and supported each other’s decisions, even when they were not something they would do. Leon now lives in Utah and works in a community center there. Since Meri’s hospitality business is in the same state and she has no other biological children, their bond can only improve.