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LDS Church details practice, history of polygamy


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a document about plural marriage on its website Monday.

The LDS Church released a document detailing the history of plural marriage in the religion. The document did not mention Friday's ruling that a law's language prohibiting polygamous cohabitation in Utah as unconstitutional.

Since 1904, the church has prohibited its members from practicing plural marriage.

Approximately half of Utah territory residents in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous household, according to the church. By 1870, that number was reduced to 25 to 39 percent and it continued to decrease in the next 20 years.

“Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century,” the church wrote. “The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30).”

Throughout the document, the church describes the impact on and sacrifice of members practicing plural marriage.

“Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes,” the document reads. “It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population. Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints.”


Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God's purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant ...

–Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah


The document also emphasized the role women played in plural marriage. The LDS Church said women were allowed to choose whether or not to enter into a plural marriage and their spouse. Additionally, the church wrote, divorces were available to women who wished to end their plural marriage if they were unhappy. Remarriage was also available.

“Women were free to choose their spouses, whether to enter into a polygamous or monogamous union, or whether to marry at all. Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of church leaders before entering a plural marriage.”

The church also mentioned the defense of polygamy by some Mormon women at the time. More than anything, the church said, plural marriage was about gospel-centered principles like charity and love.

“While there was much love, tenderness, and affection within many plural marriages, the practice was generally based more on religious belief than on romantic love. Church leaders taught that participants in plural marriages should seek to develop a generous spirit of unselfishness and the pure love of Christ for everyone involved.”

Utah scholars weigh in on polygamy document

"These are things that I don't know why they are happening right now, but these are game-changing acknowledgements by the church, coming to terms with some of its history," author and attorney Ken Cannon said Tuesday.

Ken Cannon wrote one of the earliest articles about polygamy after Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto ending the practice. Early church leader George Q. Cannon was his great-great grandfather.


These are things that I don't know why they are happening right now, but these are game-changing acknowledgements by the Church, coming to terms with some of its history.

–Ken Cannon, author and attorney


"His view of polygamy was that it was wonderful," Ken Cannon said. "My grandmother's view of plural marriage was that it was horrible; and so it's very personal to me."

The document about polygamy is part of a series of resources the church is releasing, including that about race and the priesthood.

"I'm seeing this as an invitation to clean our hearts, or whatever else is keeping us from being fully unified with our brothers and sisters, and help one another to bear one another's burdens — which means we enter into the households we might not have entered before," said Margaret Blair Young, an author, filmmaker and writing instructor at BYU.

Professor Paul Reeve, a historian at the University of Utah, said no matter which topic, it is important that Latter-day Saints understand the history of their faith.

"To have a scholarly source to turn to when they have questions, and to have it approved by their leadership, I think is an important step forward," he said.

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Celeste Tholen Rosenlof and Carole Mikita

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