Tag Archives | polygamy

Is polygamy harmful?

Even when the mariages are between adults, if the community if polygamist, then the girls tend to be traded like cattle and low-status young men create problems for all. This is true across time and culture.

History suggests that it is. A new study out of the University of British Columbia documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. Women are usually thought of as the primary victims of polygynous marriages, but as cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. And those young men create problems for everybody.

For more on this, read my review of

God’s Brothel: The extortion of sex for salvation in contemporary Mormon and Christian fundamentalist polygamy and the stories of 18 women who escaped

Warren Jeffs. “Man who represents himself has an idiot for a lawyer”

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is already in prison, faces charges elsewhere, and is on trial in Texas for child sex assault. He’s decided to defend himself, a decision that invariably ends badly for the defendant.

Jeffs heads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (FLDS) which is based in Hildale UT. They are the town, the police, the mayor, etc. The Merry Wives Cafe there is open to all. It has good food. They don’t hide the polygamy. But if you venture into the little town itself a cop will probably follow you and residents will tell you to leave.

Cafe run by polygamist wives, Hildale UT

Forcing 12 year-old girls to “marry” middle-aged men is abhorrent. They have no choice in the matter and it basically amounts to rape.

The Mormon Church does not tolerate polygamy now and rightfully points out that FLDS members are not Mormon.

For more on this see my review of God’s Brothel: The extortion of sex for salvation in contemporary Mormon and Christian fundamentalist polygamy and the stories of 18 women who escaped

Polygamous church dispute may head to Utah court

A war of secession in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints between church bishop William E. Jessop and jailed current leader Warren Jeffs may go to court.

Monday marks the deadline set by commerce officials for both parties to resolve the dispute or a legal showdown might be set in motion since, if no agreement is reached, the state says power will revert back to Jeffs.

“The last thing a judge wants to do in a nation committed to the separation of church and state is to become the arbiter of questions of faith,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said.

Regardless of who becomes the leaders (and Utah rightfully does not want to get involved) a split seems likely, with the two factions going their separate ways.

Here in southern Utah, polygamists tend to live way out in the country or in small towns like Hildale, where they are the mayor and police. You sometimes see polygamist women in Wal-Mart. They are easy to spot due to their full length old-timey dresses and hair in a bun. Polygamist communities tend to be highly suspicious of outsiders and are heavily armed. You don’t want to go hiking in areas around where they live. Seriously. Someone who drives a garbage truck here says when he goes way out in the country to a polygamist area, the men drag the trash out to the entrance and stand there with rifles when he picks it up to make sure he doesn’t enter.

The Mormon Church has zero tolerance for polygamy. Members who are found to be polygamist are excommunicated and members of polygamist sects are by definition not Mormon.

Cafe run by polygamist wifes, Hildale UT

God’s Brothel: The extortion of sex for salvation in contemporary Mormon and Christian fundamentalist polygamy and the stories of 18 women who escaped

Andrea Moore-Emmett, who was raised Mormon, documents clearly in God’s Brothel how polygamy across time and multiple cultures has never and can never be anything but rank subjugation of women and girls. The women are never equals. They are treated like property, subject to spousal rape, degradation, forced poverty, and more. Girls as young as nine are ‘married’ to grown men. Teenage girls get used as sex toys. Marriage among first cousins and even father and daughter occurs.

But wait you say, certainly there must be a few polygamist wives who are happy. Well, based on the eighteen stories here as well as quotes from Brigham Young’s wives, the answer is No. Generally, one wife is the favorite; the lesser wives get treated as housemaids or slaves. The older wives can be jealous of the younger ones and can make their lives miserable. Besides, even if there was a polygamist marriage where the wives were happy, their children, especially the girls would be born into polygamy and have no choice about their future. It is a brutal patriarchy with the man assuming he is the God of his household and ‘women are a vessel to be worn out in childbirth.’ Beatings are not uncommon. The women are told the only way they can go to heaven and avoid hell is by submitting to polygamy and complete male authority.

From the book

Much is said about many women in polygamy being consenting adults who willingly choose to live as plural wives and who are very happy. There can be no consent when girls are born into polygamy and, through isolation and limited education, do not know of any other choices. There can be no consent when women are recruited and go through the conversion process without understanding how mind-control takes place physically and mentally.

It can be devastating on the boys too. Polygamist elders frequently see them as competition for the young girls, so when the boys are 18, they are dumped on a street corner somewhere and left to fend on their own, with no jobs skills and little education or exposure to the outside world. That’s right, their elders simply abandon them. Other times the boys simply ‘disappear.’

In Prince vs. Massachusetts The U.S. Supreme Court “held that the government has broad authority to regulate the actions and treatment of children. Parental authority is not absolute and can be permissibly restricted if doing so is in the interests of a child’s welfare. While children share many of the rights of adults, they face different potential harms from similar activities.”

From the United Nations general recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Polygamous marriage contravenes a woman’s right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited. The Committee notes with concern that some States parties, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights, permit polygamous marriage in accordance with personal or customary law. This violates the constitutional rights of women, and breaches the provisions of article 5 (a) of the Convention.

The Mormon Church (LDS) will expel any member practicing polygamy. It’s zero tolerance at the official level. However, polygamy is still part of their scripture even as the doctrine announced in 1890 outlaws it for members. Some LDS members hope it may come back someday. My take on the US forcing LDS to banish polygamy is perhaps more political than those who opposed it on moral grounds. LDS was expanding fast in the mid to late 1800’s. Brigham Young envisioned a religious empire stretching from Utah to California, and the practice of polygamy attracted men to join and then have many children. The US eventually saw this as a threat to itself and thus in effect told LDS to stop polygamy or we will destroy you.

Even LDS members who might have some inclination towards accepting polygamy sometimes change their views when they see what it is like.

Ron Barton, an LDS member initially sympathetic to polygamy, was hired by the Utah Attorney General to investigate polygamy. After a year he said it now seemed to him that “the lifestyle seemed to breed abuses and, in light of that, should be kept illegal.”

The book notes that Jan Shipps, “the preeminent historian of the Mormon Church”, said in 2000 now “that these plural relationships once sanctified by the church have been tied to victimization of women and children and possible abuse of government resources, continuing toleration of the practice in the Mormon culture region will probably be less acceptable than in has been in the past half-century.”

His words are cautious however his meaning is quite clear. Polygamy is exploitative. The abuses of governmental resources he refers to is the polygamist practice of “bleeding the beast” i.e. the government, by swindling money out of them, often by welfare fraud. This reaches sickening proportions in FLDS, one of the nastiest of the polygamist cults, where due to intermarriage babies are often born with major problems and pregnant girls pat their bellies and hope for a mongloid because that means the welfare payment from the state will be larger.

The 18 stories in the book by women who escaped polygamist marriages are horrific. The women and female children were little better than slaves. They had no say in anything, were brutalized and beaten, with the girls having no childhood as they were put to work as young as four. Sometimes their brothers, half-brothers, and step-brothers would repeatedly molest and even rape them while the father looked on approvingly. Sometimes the father was doing the same. With such families often living in isolated rural areas in communities where the police are members of the polygamist cult too, then the women and girls have no protection at all.

As two of the women who escaped said, “What is going on with a sister-wife or wives is that you are sharing one penis. That’s what it all revolves around.” Polygamy is male patriarchy taken to its most extreme lengths, with women and girls being frequent and brutalized victims.

The author helped found Tapestry Against Polygamy, an organization that helps women escape, and chaired Utah NOW, who originally supported polygamy based on giving women a choice and now opposes it as does the rest of NOW.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer, investigates the real-life ‘blood atonement’ murder of a woman who was a member of a fundamentalist polygamist sect and wanted to leave it.

Sue and I are dividing our time between San Jose CA and Cedar City UT, which is heavily Mormon – and is also by far the friendliest place I’ve ever been. LDS members value civility as a virtue. Their church has a private welfare system, something I find admirable. The Utah drug court, unlike California, gives offenders multiple chances. This is undoubtedly due to an LDS-inspired belief in the possibility of redemption. So, I’m not interested in Mormon bashing. Besides, the Catholic religion I was raised in and left at age 14 is guilty of sickening institutionalized sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning decades. Both churches have legacies they will be dealing with for years, which in different ways are about male power and dominance, a lack of accountability, and masking sexual predation behind a cover of religion. The polygamist cults are extreme and virulent examples of that.