Blog Tal — 17 December 2013
Polygamy: The LDS Legacy That Won’t Go Away

In 1890, Wilford Woodruff, the then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), issued a “Declaration” that, in effect ,suspended the Mormon doctrine of plural marriage (polygamy). Actually, polygamy was a notorious doctrine and practice of the LDS since the time of Joseph Smith. The practice was kept secret until 1852 when it was publically acknowledged by Brigham Young. Young, the LDS’ second president, was reputed to have had 55 wives! The practice had been divinely sanctioned in an 1843 “revelation” to Smith which was later canonized as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  It remains there today and is still regarded by Mormon “fundamentalists” (Mormons not affiliated with the LDS) as in effect.

Woodruff officially stopped polygamy because the U.S. territory of Utah, which was about 90% Mormon at the time, had grown to the point that its people wanted to be granted statehood. However, because the LDS church sanctioned polygamy, the overwhelming consensus among Americans was that Utah not be admitted to the union unless the immoral practice was abolished. For that reason, and the threat of federal government intervention, it was suspended. There is good evidence that some plural marriages were still secretly sanctioned by the LDS after 1890.

Later Utah outlawed the practice, though it rarely has enforced the prohibition. Today estimates are that as many as 50,000 people in Utah and surrounding areas quietly live in polygamous families.

But now that embarrassing legacy of polygamy in Mormon country has raised its head again. This time a U.S. District Court judge in Utah has ruled that the state’s anti-polygamy law is, in key parts, unconstitutional.  This begs the question: If prohibiting polygamy is deemed unconstitutional, will the LDS again sanction it? After all, it is still regarded as an “everlasting covenant” in D&C 132:4.

Though it is unlikely the LDS will return to polygamy anytime soon, this question only illustrates the broader dilemma America will face in the coming years. If marriage continues to be redefined by courts and state legislatures (it now embraces same-sex marriages in several states), will there will be no end to what it entails? Will it include polygamy, group marriage, incest marriage, inter-species marriage, or you name it? Folks, the slope is greased and I am afraid nothing short of a spiritual revolution will stop the moral avalanche.

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Tal Davis

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