It’s no secret that the 19 century was a time of numerous innovations, national disputes, and overall big events in human history. And at the forefront of these circumstances was a rather young nation we now know as America. A land of opportunities, the U.S. gave birth to a brand-new world of ideas and life paths. But besides modernizing society and developing democracy to a new level, it opened up its doors to various religious sects and cults.
The 1800s were a turbulent time. From the Civil War to the abolition of slavery, it was a period when many nontraditional Christian denominations took the spotlight. Besides conventional fractions like the Roman Catholics, the likes of Evangelical, Methodist, and Lutheran Protestants became really popular all over the States. But among them was a not so big group of people who began to follow Joseph Smith and Mormonism in upstate New York.
Unfortunately, after his death, his followers began to split in various fractions. Although pretty similar in their preaching and beliefs, there was one significant difference between them. Some, mainly followers of Brigham Young, began to openly practice plural marriages. This idea was and still is a big controversy both in the Mormon community and the American public in general.
And since the practice of polygamy is so controversial, we feel the need to explain the ins and outs of its connection with the Mormon church members. From its legal status to how different communities look at it, we’ll try and make things a little more clear.
Therefore, read on and find out what the big deal was with having more than one wife. And if you’re looking to experiment with such a lifestyle yourself, you’ll surely benefit from knowing how it works in the real-life United States.
The Short Origin of the Mormon Faith
Starting in the early 19th century, Mormonism began with the teachings of Joseph Smith in Western New York. The story of this religious practice began with Smith discovering and translating golden plates, which he later published as “The Book of Mormon.” Although the word “Mormon” was initially a pejorative, the community doesn’t see it as such anymore. Still, they prefer to call each other the Latter-Day Saints movement or the LDS church followers.
After the killing of Smith and his brother Hyrum by an angry mob in Illinois, his following began to split into various groups with new church leaders emerging. The majority of believers began to follow Brigham Young and his westward journey to Utah. But besides Young’s group, there are still two large sects today — Fundamentalist Mormonism and the Community of Christ (who don’t refer to themselves as Mormons). The first one is notorious for still preaching Mormon polygamy among its followers.
But the Mormon faith doesn’t only exist in the United States. They have a large influence in Central and South America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, etc.). Some sources state that there are more than 16 million Mormons around the world, with the community slowly growing each year. And even if the mainstream culture often makes fun of them, they show a strong sense of community and resilience.
What Is Polygamy and Why Is It Practiced by the Fundamentalists in the Mormon Faith?
Polygamy is a form of intimate relationship in which a person is married to multiple partners. When a man has two or more wives, it’s polygyny; when a female has more husbands, it’s polyandry. This practice is illegal in most countries around the world, but there are ways around it.
But why are Mormons allowed to have more than one wife? Well, it’s not that simple. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints no longer officially supports this idea. The only people who openly propose and preach it are the Mormon Fundamentalists.
Back in the 19 century, the Republicans strongly opposed this idea and applied anti-polygamy pressure on the community to forbid it. Some sources say that around 20–30% of Mormon households were polygamous. During that time, there was constant tension between the community and the authorities, escalating in the Utah War. And after years of pressure, the church leader, Wilford Woodruff, would finally forbid it through a published manifesto.
The early idea behind polygamy was that of God himself having multiple wives, one of them being Mary, Jesus’ mother. Early church leaders would marry at least three women to get into Heaven after they die. This idea still exists in fundamentalist Mormon groups. Their critics say that it’s a form of degeneracy only there for males to have more sexual gratification.
Polygamy is illegal in all American states. But interestingly enough, Utah has a much more strict law referring to having multiple partners. It’s illegal to participate in a marriage-like relationship with more than one person. This overreaction to some seems to be in direct link with the Mormon society and their 19th-century practices.
Why Did Polygamy Become Controversial?
The critique of having multiple wives is well-documented, and there are various arguments against it. Here we’ll only try to list a couple of them. Keep in mind that we’re not suggesting one thing or another — we’re only here to try and objectively discuss both sides as much as possible. So, without further ado, here’s what the critics of polygamy have to say about it.
The main problems people have with having multiple wives and husbands are those of morals and ethics. In their eyes, polygamy promotes inequality between genders. For instance, in polygyny, women aren’t equal to their husband. The same applies to polyandry — only the gender roles are different.
Another reason why people condemn it is the fact that, in many cases, it proves to be the stepping stone for child abuse. Plural wives will only care and favor their children. Also, they tend to spark jealousy between children themselves and restrict them from a socially acceptable upbringing. Moreover, kids develop unhealthy and obsessive rivalries with their half brothers and sisters.
Polygamy isn’t a stranger to pitting wives/husbands against each other too. It’s almost unavoidable for them to dislike each other. The affection their one partner gives them will never be equal. So, that can only lead to confrontations between them. It mostly comes down to multiple partners being treated as expendable.
Also, polygamy doesn’t allow every male and female to equal opportunities in finding the love of their life. Marrying more than one person at a time leaves others with fewer chances while looking for someone to date. On the other hand, this was one of the main reasons why Mormons would do it since their communities were lacking men, and there were lots of females for guys to choose from.
Do LDS Members Still Practice Polygamy?
Polygamy is no longer a major thing in the Mormon community. It’s been that way ever since the late 19 century when the church leaders prohibited it. Some fractions of the Mormon faith still practice it and want to bring it back openly. Unfortunately for them, the Supreme Court and the U.S. authorities don’t share the same enthusiasm.
These days, major Mormon groups distance themselves from the “multiple wives” idea. Some even claim that it was never a thing in their communities and that the stories about their church leaders having multiple partners in the 1800s are false. Either way, their media depiction, and their overall public image seem to constantly revolve around the polygamy controversy.
Sure, some people in the LDS community practice it, but it’s without the blessing from their church leaders and the group as a whole. They usually keep their private lives away from the public eye, almost like doing it underground. And seeing how their communities are so close and tight, such things rarely leak out.
Looking to get into Mormonism and become a follower of the Latter-Day Saints movement to have a polygamous relationship is wrong on many levels. Not only does it violate the laws of the U.S. and almost every other country in the world, but it’s also a breeding ground for all sorts of future problems. The idea that spouses aren’t equal in, say, number and happiness is the opposite of modern human society’s values.