Polygamy - Frequently Asked Questions

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Polygamy, Polyandry, Polygyny: What's the difference?

Polygyny is one man married to several women.
Polyandry is one woman married to several men.
Polygamy refers to either arrangement. The Utah Mormon church practiced polygyny. Several of today's Mormon faiths practice both polygyny and polyandry, which is consistent with the practices of Joseph Smith the faith's founder.

How much of Utah is Mormon?

About 70% of Utah is Mormon.

How many Polygamists are there in Utah?

About 60,000
(5% of Utah Mormons)

Why aren't all those polygamists jailed?

A recent (1998) poll by the Salt Lake tribune found that 35% of Utah's population think that polygamists should not be prosecuted. Many of the folks in Utah are descendants of polygamists, and don't care to heap the same type of intolerant abuse on their neighbors that the early Mormon people were subjected to. In addition, the laws that were written against polygamy are basically laws against consensual sensuality, which cannot be prosecuted in today's legal climate.

I have also been led to believe that bigamy is accepted and a quite common practice within the Mormon religion.

Bigamy is usually thought of as having a second spouse without telling the first one that you are already married. As such bigamy is highly frowned upon by the mormon people. Polygamy, on the other hand, where everyone is aware of the situation, and all concerned give consent is more acceptable.

Mormon doctrine states that in order to enter the highest heaven that those who enter must be living in polygamy. Mormon doctrine also states that we believe in being subject to the laws of the land. So for the time being, the largest Mormon sect, the LDS church, has decided it is more important to live the laws of the land than those of God. Other Mormon faiths have made a different choice in the matter, and practice polygamy in defiance of the laws of the land.

Is the Law of Polygamy enforced within this religion and how long has this been in place?

Polygamy was lived secretly in the LDS church from about 1831 to 1852. The first mormon prophet had 20-30 wives and was murdered for practicing polygamy privately while denying it publicly.

Polygamy was lived openly from 1852 to 1890 by the LDS church in Utah. The church made a show of abandoning the practice in order to get statehood. It wasn't until the second manifesto about 20 years later that the church started excommunicating new polygamists.  Since that time, the LDS church has taken a very harsh and intolerant stance against anyone who publicly admits that they practice polygamy, or claims that it should be practiced.. (Polygamy still happens among members of the LDS church, just so long as those practicing in it are discrete, but not a moment longer.)

When the church abandoned polygamy with the second manifesto, existing polygamists were granted amnesty by the government, and were allowed by the church and the state to continue living polygamy until they died. The last practicing polygamist LDS prophet died in 1918. It is believed that the last church sanctioned polygamist died in 1976.

What are Mormon Fundamentalists?

The LDS prophet John Taylor was visited by Joseph Smith and commanded to ordain apostles outside of the normal chain of command in the church, and commissioned them to carry on the practice of polygamy, even after the church abandoned it. So the practice continues among those who feel that it is more important to obey God than it is to obey the government. These folks are called Mormon Fundamentalists.

Are there different types of polygamists?

There are generally two major polygamist ideologies. One represented by the folks of Colorado City, which takes a very conservative approach, saying that the purpose of intimacy is for procreation only, while the other ideology that intimacy is to be enjoyed, is more typical of the AUB, Apostolic United Brethren.

When was the last anti-polygamy prosecution?

About 1953, the state of Arizona National Guard raided a polygamist colony called Short Creek on the Utah/Arizona border, and separated the kids from their mothers, and threw the men in jail. The people of the nation were so outraged by it, that there have not been polygamy prosecutions since. (Unless you want to consider Waco to be an anti-polygamist raid.) So while polygamy is not legal, the laws against it are not enforced.

Polygamists are not latter-day saints!

Typically polygamists are only excommunicated if they are vocal about their polygamy. I know faithful Latter-day saints that practice polygamy in the privacy of their own homes and hearts which are never X'd by the church. It's not really the practice of polygamy that is punishable, but the flaunting of it to the rest of the world. Course, I walk on the fringes of the LDS church, and see many things that are not evident to the more mainstream LDS members.

Based on the polygamists that I have known over the years, I estimate that about 3% of those you see in an LDS church on Sunday are practicing polygamy.

Next time one of the brethren at a ward picnic introduces you to his sister, or his mother, or his aunt, who happens to live in his home, or introduces you to his single next door neighbor, you might wonder about what relationship they really have...

It is very common for polygamists to rent or buy a duplex, and for the families to live side by side. It is an excellent way of being discrete.

Are polygamist marriages valid?

The community considers the marriages to be valid, even if the law does not. Please remember, that most of the inhabitants of Utah are descended from Polygamous families. Polygamy was taken from us by the Federal government, and we still harbor a deep distrust of governments in general, and of the Federal Government in particular. The State of Utah could in theory prosecute someone for fornication or adultery, but since the anti-adultery laws are not enforced against the general population, polygamists cannot be singled out for prosecution.

Why is polygamy banned by the Utah constitution?

The short answer is because the people of Utah were coerced by the Federal government.

The longer answer is that, in the United States, we have two separate Jurisdictions. One is the Federal Jurisdiction that applies to the Territories, to government workers, and to Federal Property.

The other jurisdiction is the jurisdiction of the sovereign states.

With that said, most federal laws only apply to those people who request to become subject to the federal government. For example, by becoming a government employee, or by living in a territory that is controlled by the Federal government instead of the states, or by entering federally owned property within the states, such as a military base or post office. The other common way that the Federal government brings people under it's jurisdiction is by offering them money to become part of it's jurisdiction, for example: The Feds give local school districts money for school lunches, the price being that the Feds then regulate how and what foods are prepared. The food regulations don't apply to those schools that don't accept the money.

The reason Utah could not attain statehood without the provision forever banning polygamy being in it's constitution is because once statehood was granted, the Edmunds-Tucker act would become null and void in the State of Utah.

What is the Edmunds-Tucker act?

The Edmunds-Tucker act was designed to destroy the LDS church if it continued the practice of polygamy. Specific provisions included:

What other anti-polygamy laws were passed?

Polygamy was illegal in the territory of Utah by the following acts of congress:

1862 the Anti-Bigamy Act
1874 Poland Act
1882 Edmunds Act
1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act

Is Polygamy illegal?

Federal law prohibits polygamy in the territories. Federal law also does not provide legal recognition of  polygamy. It defines marriage as one man, and one woman.

The laws vary from state to state, but in general, if you do not ask for a marriage license from the state for your first (marriage), then you can cohabit with as many people as you like and it is not illegal. Bigamy and Adultery are only crimes for a married person, not for people who are living together. Some jurisdictions have laws against having unmarried sex, but they are never enforced.

It also helps if you avoid labeling your relationship as a marriage. For example, living together is generally not illegal, but representing yourselves as husband and wife may be.

The government is prevented by the constitution from regulating contracts or saying who you may associate with. So you make a contract with another person, the particulars of which contain the usual things that a marriage would be composed of, but you avoid the legal hot words in the body of the contract.

But in general if you avoid a marriage license, and don't represent yourselves on official documents as being married, and don't let them declare that you have a common law marriage, then you can do what you want without worrying about it being illegal.

Where are the polygamists?

The largest concentrations of Polygamists in Utah are near Manti and in Hillsdale (Colorado City, Arizona). Practically the whole town of Colorado City is owned by a religious trust, the members of which practice polygamy. Wherever the LDS has a large concentration of Utah born members, you can be sure that there is polygamy close by.

See Also:


Women Want Polygamy
Utah Laws about Polygamy 
Curse of Monogamy
Letters about Polygamy
Polygamy FAQ
LDS (Mormon) Church on Polygamy


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