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The debate over marriage in American society and the fears expressed by some conservatives that allowing diversity will somehow destroy the institution of marriage is ever evolving. While there appears to be some who feel that there is only one kind of marriage, in reality there are many options regarding marriage.


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By: Julia Layton. Plural marriage is as old as the Bible. Abraham and Jacob each had more than one wife. King David had six.

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Joanna Brooks does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. This spotlight on polygamy is likely to make the majority of Mormons who are nonfundamentalist uncomfortable.

But to this day, mainstream Mormons encounter stereotypes of polygamy.

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As a scholar of Mormonism and gender and a Mormon myself, I know that the truth about Mormonism and polygamy is complicated and confusing. For more than years, polygamy and tensions surrounding it have defined what it means to be a Mormon — especially a Mormon man.

What are the rules of polygamy?

Founded by Joseph Smith inthe Mormon movement from its beginnings offered a unique perspective on the religious role of men. One of the most influential events in the life of Joseph Smith was the death of his year-old brother Alvin in InJoseph Smith had a vision of Alvin Smith in heaven. Any faithful Mormon approved by church leaders could perform these sealings.

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Due in part to this powerful role it gave to men in helping to save the people they loved and brought to heaven, Mormonism attracted proportionally more male converts than any other American religious movement of the time. In the early s, Smith extended this view of the role of men to include polygamy as it was practiced by Old Testament prophets like Abraham. This teaching was established as doctrine in Rumors that polygamy was practiced by a small cadre of LDS Church leaders spurred mob violence against early Mormon settlements in Illinois and Missouri.

After the murder of Joseph Smith inMormons migrated to Utah territory inand there, under the leadership of Brigham Young — who succeeded Joseph Smith — brought the practice of polygamy out of the shadows.

LDS leaders announced plural marriage as an official Mormon Church practice in Following Young, Mormon theologians heralded polygamy as a core doctrine and as evidence of patriarchal manliness. By the s, an estimated percent of Mormon families practiced polygamy.

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However, after the U. Civil War, a growing controversy over polygamy united Americans — in both the North and South. Politicians, preachers and novelists decried it as an evil equal to slavery. The court said.

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At common law, the second marriage was always void, and from the earliest history of England, polygamy has been treated as an offence against society…. Woodruff announced in that the Mormon Church would no longer sanction plural marriages in adherence with the law of the United States.

Still, such marriages continued to be performed among Mormons in Mexico — some of whom emigrated from Utah to northern Mexico specifically to continue polygamy — or by rogue LDS leaders through the s. In the s, seven leading Mormon polygamists banded together to form a loose confederation of Mormon fundamentalists to keep polygamy going. Several were excommunicated from the mainstream LDS Church and formed close-knit fundamentalist communities across the West — from Canada to Mexico — that survive to this day.

Beginning of polygamy

While fundamentalist Mormons broke off from the LDS Church in the early 20th century to continue their open practice of polygamy, those who remained members of the LDS Church made a hard turn toward the American mainstream and assimilation.

These mainstream Mormons developed new norms of Mormon manhood that seemed safer to the American public. Moving away from the stereotype that Mormonism was led by fanatical prophets with multiple wives and long beards, as Mormons assimilated, LDS Church leaders developed a more modern clean-shaven appearance and a bureaucratic, corporate style of managing church affairs. Between andLDS participation in the Boy Scouts which began inbans on smoking and alcohol, and conservative sexuality helped to defined this new Mormon manhood.

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Still, it is my experience as a lifelong Mormon that LDS people with strong cultural and familial ties to the faith commonly believe that polygamy will be a fact of life in heaven. The LDS Church publicly renounced the practice of polygamy inbut it has never renounced polygamy as doctrine, as evidenced in LDS scriptures.

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This tension between private belief and public image makes polygamy a sensitive subject for Mormons even today. Plymouth Contemporary — Plymouth, Devon. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom.

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Polygamy advocate Brady Williams talks with his five wives during an interview at their home in a polygamous community outside Salt Lake City. Beginning of polygamy Founded by Joseph Smith inthe Mormon movement from its beginnings offered a unique perspective on the religious role of men.