I'm going to link a number of headlines and news stories as well as credible historical sources in this seed/article (several years ago two of my blog writings on Mormon history were published on well-known and acclaimed sites; both required editorial approval). I welcome fact-checking and/or input from knowledgeable and credible sorts, but LDS "defenders" ought to realize they're vastly outgunned in any cyber-space battle, and my phaser banks are fully charged and functional.
The first tells the story of one of the women who managed to "walk away" from one of the "less extreme" polygamist sects (Warren Jeff's FLDS located in the Hilldale, Utah/Colorado City, AZ area on this state's southern border is probably more familiar to many).
Former polygamist women critical of plural marriage ruling
[Kristyn] Decker spent five decades as a member of the polygamous Apostolic United Brethren, which was linked to the Kody Brown family, who filed the lawsuit leading to Waddoups’ ruling and star in TV’s "Sister Wives."
The daughter of a past leader of the group, Decker married and had children, but by 2001 became disillusioned and walked away. Her forthcoming book, "Fifty Years in Polygamy," tells the story.
Decker is part of a local activist group, "Tapestry Against Polygamy," comprised of many who've left the various folds and are telling stories that involve underage brides, coercion, leadership privileges, welfare fraud, and other excesses conducted under a horribly authoritative "religious mantle."
Judge Waddoups' ruling didn't overturn state laws against bigamy (it's still illegal to legally marry more than one person); what it did--in citing the Texas "sodomy verdict"--was to say the constraints against cohabitation were unconstitutional.
But Marion Munn sided with Decker. Munn also spent years in the AUB and mentioned that the Browns in particular are not bad people. Munn is now a graduate student at the University of Utah studying rhetoric and writing.
Her master’s thesis explores the media treatment of polygamy and a 1953 government raid against the polygamist Short Creek community in Arizona, among other things.
Munn said Sunday that decriminalizing polygamy will help perpetuate the kinds of abuses mentioned by Decker because it offers polygamy protected religious status.
"The Constitution protects religious belief but not religious practices," she said.
I invite others to look at the history of the notorious "Short Creek Raid of 1953" for additional insights on the subject. One particularly problematic issue in prosecuting polygamists--it rarely happens except in "high profile cases"--is that as soon as the male "elders" are jailed, someone needs to assume the burden of care for the wives and children.
A huge issue is the PR problem the modern LDS Religion (Mormons) faces with their own history on the subject. An "essay" just appeared on the official LDS website a day or two ago, and to one who is familiar with the actual events, it's a model of cherry-picking, doublespeak, sanitized history, and outright lies. Salt Lake Tribune writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, herself a Mormon (and self-appointed church apologist, IMHO) wrote the following story that appeared last night.
LDS essay: Mormons practiced polygamy after Manifesto
It's impossible in less than a large book-length volume to give a thorough history of "plural marriage" as it relates to Mormons and their role in the American Frontier, migrating as they did, first from Ohio to Missouri, then to Illinois, and finally to Utah and the Rocky Mountains. I think it's worth noting these are my ancestors in many cases; the "joke" among the heretics in my immediate family is "The happiest day of my great-great grandmother's life was the day her husband's first wife died."
From Fletcher Stack's column:
Just days after a federal judge struck down parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy laws, the LDS Church published an official essay about its historic ties to plural marriage, including an acknowledgment that the practice persisted even into the early 20th century.
The practice of LDS men marrying more than one wife began with a divine revelation to church founder Joseph Smith in the early 1840s, the site says. "Thereafter, for more than half a century, plural marriage was practiced by some Latter-day Saints."
Here the "PR dishonesty" begins, but it takes a sophisticated eye to spot it. The first inaccuracy is the date; Joseph Smith's first "plural wife" was Fanny Alger who was 16 in 1833 when she lived in the Smith household and the scandal ensued. Smith later married a number of 17-year olds while the Saints were in Nauvoo, as well as 14-year old Helen Mar Kimball, the daughter of LDS leader Heber C. Kimball.
The doctrine of plural marriage was kept secret and denied--although rumors abounded, of course--until 1852, when, on the heels of a best-seller written by John W. Gunnison, an announcement was made--by Orson Pratt obviously at Brigham Young's behest--in the LDS General Conference that the practice did, indeed, have "divine sanction" in Utah Territory. Gunnison was a U.S. Army officer who'd conducted survey operations in the area and spent a winter among the Mormons. He was later murdered in the "Gunnison Massacre," and many suspected Mormons were involved, although the blame was placed on the Pahvant (Ute) Indians.
I'll leave it to the readers to decide whether the LDS Church is being honest with characterizing it as "an experiment" and note the claim that "some" were involved probably included more than 30% of Mormon men and all of the leaders.
In the ensuing half-century after Joseph Smith's death, polygamy was the face of Mormonism.
I'll fast forward fifty years (and I'll try to answer questions in the various nations if anyone perceives any ambiguities; the late Wallace Stegner noted that the problem with writing about Mormon subjects is that one is inevitably dragged into all sorts of tangential issues that required explanation) to the era after Brigham Young's death. The third LDS President, John Taylor, was famously pictured in "prison stripes," having been jailed for "cohabitation," and he died while hiding out from federal authorities. Wilford Woodruff succeeded him, and he was the "author" of the Manifesto identified in the church essay and Peggy Fletcher Stack's article.
Despite this "revelation," LDS leaders continued to conduct polygamous marriages, and the result was the Second Manifesto described. Even then, the practice has continued, and while it's accurate to say the modern church doesn't sanction multiple wives (at least concurrently), I'm aware of historical claims--from polygamists, of course--that they were permitted access to the Salt Lake Temple as late as the 1960's to conduct their ceremonies. This was ostensibly to "preserve a remnant of the seed," the same reason that Mormons emigrated to Mexico--Mitt Romney's ancestors among them--and a number of them still live there although I've heard no mention of modern-day plural marriage.
LDS "folklore" on the subject is replete with misinformation that doesn't stand up to historical scrutiny. The claim about "marriages at young ages were common in that era" isn't born out by the Census data, nor is the notion that "polygamy provided a means of increasing membership," since it can be demonstrated that one-on-one marriages will produce more descendants (without excluding males from the gene pool and effectively drive them out of the culture) than polygamist ones.
Polygamy was about the subjugation of women, clothing sexual exploitation in the guise of "divine sanction," and as such, it has no place in an enlightened society. It is far different than "same sex" marriage, and it's utter nonsense to equate the two practices.
And the modern LDS Church's treatment of its history demonstrates, once again, as happened with the "Black Priesthood Ban" and "institutionalized racism," that it had to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into the 20th and 21st Centuries, and like a sullen child, it alternates periods of stubborn silence with episodes of retaliation and acting-out. On that last issue, I'll once again point out that noted LDS historian, D. Michael Quinn, was excommunicated for publicly acknowledging Post Manifesto plural marriages.
Finally, for those wanting to explore the actual history further, I'll point them to the "Smoot Hearings" where the U.S. Senate argued the controversy for several years when it debated whether to seat LDS "Apostle" Reed Smoot as one of its members. Here's a cartoon from that era that accurately "captures the mood":
And over a hundred years later, the subject is still filling the pages of cartoonists' easels: