Much has changed since the days when my great-grandparents practiced polygamy. Many of my ancestors were among the early converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have numerous ancestors who practiced polygamy, some of whom spent time in prison because of the practice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (The Family – A Proclamation to the World). However, some members of the Church of Jesus Christ practiced polygamy for about fifty years.
[Members of the Church of Jesus Christ] believe that God commanded early Latter-day Saints to practice polygamy for a time. While Latter-day Saints today do not know all the reasons for God’s command, they do understand some reasons why God would command the practice of polygamy. For example, the Book of Mormon teaches that men should have only one wife (see Jacob 2:27-29), unless the Lord commands His people to “raise up seed unto [Him]” (Jacob 2:30). The practice of plural marriage by early Latter-day Saints did lead to an increase in the number of children born to Church members.
Early Latter-day Saints also believed that the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included a restoration of ancient principles and practices, as taught in the Bible. It is clear from the Bible that multiple prominent Biblical figures – including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David – practiced polygamy….
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practice polygamy. In fact, the Church of Jesus Christ prohibits its practice. Official Declaration 1 states the following about polygamy.
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7-8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see Doctrine and Covenants 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prohibits the practice of polygamy and has done so since the Manifesto was given in October 1890. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) explained the current position of the Church of Jesus Christ on polygamy:
I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy….
If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose.
Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Articles of Faith 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time….
More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71-72).
For more than twenty years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were persecuted for practicing polygamy. The United States government threatened to confiscate all Church property and to imprison all Church leaders. President Woodruff recognized that the Church could not complete its mission without its leaders and without its temples. When he took the problem to the Lord, he received the Manifesto and told to end the practice of polygamy.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ stopped practicing polygamy, but they continued to believe in the principle of plural marriage. None of us know if the practice will return to the Church or not. However, I can now understand how the practice could return to Church practices -- particularly if there is a great war and the number of men is limited (as discussed in Isaiah 3-4 and 2 Nephi 13:25, 14:1).
More than a decade ago, same-sex marriage became legal in the United States and many other nations. Now we face the challenges of transgenderism. Even as we face this challenges, two cities in Massachusetts have “officially recognized polyamorous relationships as an acceptable form of domestic partnership. Somerville, Massachusetts, made it official last summer, and the Cambridge City Council did it this month. Readers may remember that Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
You may question what the connection is between polygamy and polyamory. This site discusses the two terms and describes some differences between them. Polygamy and polyamory both begin with poly, which is a Greek root word for “many.” “Both terms describe multiple partner relationships.” Polyamory means multiple loves, while polygamy means multiple spouses.
The biggest difference between polyamory and polygamy is the gender of the partners. In polyamory, anyone of any gender can have multiple partners – the gender of the person or their partner does not matter. Polygamy is almost universally heterosexual, and only one person has multiple spouses of a different gender. The most common form of polygamy by far is polygyny, a marriage in which one man marries multiple women. In polyandry, a rather rare social form, one woman marries multiple men.
Other differences between polyamory and polygamy are religion, history, region where practiced, and social acceptance. Polyamory is usually not connected to religion. Polygyny is usually connected to religious cultures where men have multiple wives. The two primary religious subcultures practicing polygyny in the United States are Muslims (mostly African Americans, immigrants from Muslim cultures, and a few white converts) and Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint/Fundamentalist Mormons who are almost always white. There are also a few Christian sects in the United States who allow polygyny.
The term “polyamory” was coined in 1990. The practice has had three “waves”: (1) Utopians, feminists, and anarchists thought polyamory would cure “everything from capitalist oppression to men’s tyrannical ownership of women. (2) “The second wave began with the ‘free love’ portion of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, flourishing among hippies, swingers, and disco dancers. (3) The current and largest wave “started with the spread of Internet communication.” Polygamy began in biblical times.
Polygamy is most common in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa where women have less freedoms. Polyamory is more popular in areas that grant women more freedom and access to religion – Australia, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe.
Both polygamy and polyamory face some type of marginalization in some areas and both are more accepted in some areas – polygamy in regions of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa and polyamory in Seattle, London, Paris, and Stockholm. “Bigamy – being married to two or more people at the same time – is illegal in the U.S. and much of the world.”
The speed with which same-sex marriage became legal was shocking. With polyamorous and polygamous relationships gaining popularity in the nation and world and with Democrats, liberals, and leftists controlling Congress, polyamory and polygamy could be legalized quickly. The Church of Jesus Christ stopped practicing polygamy because it became illegal. If the laws are changed – and the Lord commands, members of the Church of Jesus Christ could one day be practicing polygamy again.