Take my wives, please!

polygamyisutahsome As I’m weeks away from my own impending nuptials, the thought of marrying more than one person seems awful — like residing in the Fifth Circle of Hell. Spouses are like noses. If you have more than one, people look at you funny.

But my fiance’s father dropped a bombshell on me a few months ago: the in-laws have polygamous ancestors. Which is not all that surprising considering they have been Mormon for generations.

So I was delighted to read this Salt Lake Tribune comprehensive breakdown of presidential contender Mitt Romney’s polygamous ancestry. Written by Thomas Burr, the article not only details the polgyamy, but explains it in a historical and religious context and analyzes the political fallout. Not bad!

I had no idea how vast Romney’s polygamous past was. His great-grandfather fled to Mexico after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced the Principle in 1890 so that Utah could join the union. His family tree includes six polygamous men with 41 wives:

Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith said he had received a revelation from God that men were encouraged to have multiple wives.

The doctrine was a return to a practice predating Jesus Christ. Not all Mormon men took multiple brides, but many did. Smith is thought to have had as many as 29 wives at one point.

Mitt Romney’s ancestors converted to Mormonism as the church was starting to spread in the 1830s and 40s. His great-great-grandfather, Miles Romney, eventually took on 13 wives, including the niece with the same name of his first wife, Elizabeth Gaskell.

. . . Parley P. Pratt was one of the influential LDS Church leaders during the early years. He married 12 times, though his first wife died before he took a second. A former husband of one of his plural wives eventually killed Pratt.

. . . Miles Park Romney took five brides, though one left him and the church. According to an American Heritage magazine story in 1964, he married one woman, Millie Eyring Snow, after the LDS Church’s 1890 “manifesto” renouncing polygamy. The two never had any children.

Parley Pratt! You can’t marry women who already have husbands! Anyway, the article goes on to analyze whether the polygamous past will have any fallout for Romney, citing polls and political analysts who think he’ll be fine. I thought Kate O’Beirne of the conservative National Review had the best line about the whole thing:

Should Mitt Romney join a 2008 race that included John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and George Allen, the only guy in the GOP field with only one wife would be the Mormon.

Polygamists were also in the news earlier this week when a small group of children rallied in defense of their family makeup at a protest in Utah. I thought I would point out the different fashion reviews. Here’s AP:

Dressed in flip-flops and blue jeans, bangs drooping over their eyes, the teens at Saturday’s rally talked on cell phones and played rock music, singing lyrics written to defend their family life.

Here’s Reuters:

Most of the young men who spoke wore slacks, shirts and ties; the women wore long dresses and blouses.

Come on! There were only a dozen kids there! How could these details be so different? Also, what image were the reporters trying to convey using these different details? And which one is true?

Photo via NoveltyWearsOff on Flickr.

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  • Bob

    250 in the crowd? Uh, that’s more than *one* family
    being represented, I assume? Or are we just kind of
    “expanding” the understanding of family a little?
    Is there any room for women having multiple husbands
    to make things balance a bit? This is as grotesque as Madonna’s crucifixion.

  • Suestew

    Somewhere down the line, everyone has polygamous ancestors. It is a method of populating the speicies that although distatsteful, is really effecient. Social darwinism at work.

  • http://www.principlevoices.org MaryB

    As an organizer of the rally, I can tell you that there were more than a dozen teens at the rally. There were 15 speakers, mostly older teens and some young adults (and one 10-year-old). Some wore Sunday-dress, some wore jeans, etc. Most of the youth did NOT wear dress clothes, while about half of the speakers did. There were also two rock bands comprised of youth from polygamous families, and they were decidedly NOT in dress clothes! The Salt Lake Tribune has a photo gallery where you can see pics for yourselves: http://extras.sltrib.com/tribphoto/galleryPhotos.asp?GID=YOUTH_0820&sort=Gallery. Enjoyed your blog!

  • Rathje

    Feminist Mormon Housewives had a few posts on this:

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=362

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=633

    It’s pretty thorough and worth checking out.

  • http://www.principlevoices.org MaryB

    Some of the more modern teens, with the punk hair, etc., were not pictured in the tribune, but they were there. They’re not what people expect when thinking of polygamous people. If you’re interested in reading the youth speeches, there are eight of them posted on the tribune blog: http://blogs.sltrib.com/plurallife/. If you’re interested in more info, go to our webpage: http://www.principlevoices.org.

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  • Vance Snively

    You might want to re-think the statement, “Joseph Smith said he had received a revelation from God that men were encouraged to have multiple wives.” There is a considerable amount of evidence that Joseph Smith did not teach nor practice polygamy. See Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy at http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm.

    Joseph Smith always denounced polygamy and sought to ex-communicate several who practiced/proclaimed it. His wife, Emma, and children always supported the position he was not a polygamist. The polygamy revelation, while rumored to exist in Nauvoo, Illinois, before Joseph Smith’s death, was first published several years after his death by officials in the Utah LDS Church, who were openly practicing polygamy at the time.

    Just something to think about!

  • Martha

    “Most of the young men who spoke wore slacks, shirts and ties; the women wore long dresses and blouses.”

    Speaking as a woman, my immediate reaction to that was “Pictures! I wanna see pictures!” Because trust me on this, gentlemen: blouses + long dresses = does not compute.

    And thanks to MaryB, I can now see that yes, as I thought, some of the girls were wearing blouses and long *skirts*.

    “Also, what image were the reporters trying to convey using these different details? And which one is true?”

    I would humbly suggest perhaps *not* the one where the reporter doesn’t know the difference between a dress and a skirt.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    “Most of the young men who spoke wore slacks, shirts and ties; the women wore long dresses and blouses.”

    Speaking as a woman, my immediate reaction to that was “Pictures! I wanna see pictures!” Because trust me on this, gentlemen: blouses + long dresses = does not compute.

    Well, I want to see the young women who purportedly wore only blouses! :)

    Interestingly the only place in Scripture that speaks of how many wives a man may have is in 1 Timothy 3, where Paul tells Timothy an overseer (bishop) and deacon “must be the husband of one wife,” although this has taken on several different interpretations, such as a pastor not allowed by some to re-marry after the death of a wife. Genesis and Jesus’ quote of it in Matthew would indicate a “one man/one woman” policy (“A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife”, not “wives”).

    Yet we also have numerous cases of polygamy in the Old Testament, even by those deemed the “stalwarts of faith.” No judgment is passed. Growing up in a Lutheran school I was taught that the benefits and inheritance always passed to the child(ren) of the first wife and that there was domestic intranquility in such marriages. Well, the latter condition exists in the one man/one woman model as well (it’s a sinful condition thing). Meanwhile, the former precept isn’t always true. Solomon was born to a wife of David who is at least the third wife of David (Michal was David’s first wife and Abigail was David’s second wife; we’re just not sure how many other wives shared David’s bed before Bathsheba’s now-famous bath).

    I suspect polygamy may have also come into play with the Law of the Levirite. This Law, which protected a man’s inheritance, dictated that if a man died without a son, his widow was to marry a brother of the man and the first son of this union was legally considered the deceased man’s son (and heir to the deceased man’s property).

    A seminary professor I had once was a missionary to Africa, where polygamy is still practiced in some areas. He related that sometimes an African seminary student would take a second wife. The seminary faculty would suspend his studies for the ministry (“an overseer must be the husband of one wife…”). However, they were never asked to leave the church nor excommunicated.

    The issue of polygamy was often debated at the seminary. The closest to a prohibition we could find was that the government has laws against it and we are to obey the government. Of course a wag would always quote “No man can serve two masters.”

    Will polygamy prove to be a “bump on the slippery slope?” It can be very likely. Especially if said groups appeal to the First Amendment promise of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” If one claims that their faith has polygamy as a tenet of doctrine, then the legal battles begin.

  • Adam Greenwood

    “Parley Pratt! You can’t marry women who already have husbands!”

    I believe she was divorced.


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