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Op-ed: Recent events show Utah culture still supports polygamy

First Published      Last Updated Apr 10 2015 08:49 pm

I moved away from Utah several years ago, partly to get away from a culture that supported polygamy. Since that time, I have tried to keep a healthy distance from my past, except when it follows me.

Yesterday I saw a city bus in my hometown advertising Moab: "Utah Life Elevated." Life elevated for whom? The beautiful scenic arch on the banner didn't portray my non-elevated status as a woman living in a manmade cave outside of Moab reading early Mormon history and preparing for plural marriage. Nor did it represent my experiences within mainstream Mormonism.

(On a side note: I was one of those Mormon teenagers who learned in seminary that polygamy would come back and be lived on the earth.)




According to "The Primer," a polygamy guidebook for Utah state service-providers, approximately 40 percent of the Mormon polygamy population consists of independent fundamentalist Mormons. Independent fundamentalists generally come out of the mainstream LDS Church after learning about doctrinal changes, such as abandoning plural marriage to keep church property. The other 60 percent of Mormon fundamentalists belong to polygamous groups whose original founder came out of the mainstream Mormon church. Basically, all of contemporary Mormon polygamy comes directly from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How ironic is it that the LDS Church continues to believe in the doctrine of plural marriage, not campaign against it (like they do gay marriage) and then excommunicate their members for practicing it. In fact, Utah has decriminalized polygamy without so much as a peep from the LDS Church. So, if this is "Utah Life Elevated," it is only for preferential men living there.

A monogamous couple within the LDS religion makes typical day-to-day decisions together, such as where to live and who plays what role in the marriage. For some, male priesthood is nothing more than a status symbol. For example, I have heard it said, "Oh, priesthood is only because the man needs to feel special. We know who really makes the decisions."

In polygamy, there is no pretending because priesthood power is in full force. Plural wives have different personalities, wants and needs, and as the ultimate decision maker, the polygamist husband must flex his almighty priesthood muscle. In order not to seem like he is favoring one wife over another, he uses God/prayer/casting out demons/rallying the priesthood to make the final family decisions. This same inequality may happen in Mormon monogamy, yet it is not built into the marriage like it is in polygamy.

Whereas intimacy (more than the act of sex) is achievable in a monogamous relationship, polygamy can only function through the use of power and control. The reason women stay in polygamy is because they are taught that they must follow the priesthood in order to merit exaltation. All Mormons know the threat of being "destroyed" that Emma Smith received in D&C 132. This is coercion at its very finest. After more information was made available from the LDS Church about early Mormon polygamy, Mormon leaders have had to do damage control. Last Saturday LDS leaders announced at their biannual conference support for marriage "between a man and a woman." To say the least, the message from LDS Church leaders about marriage has been conflicting, and it never tackles the important issues of gender inequality in Mormonism, abusive dynamics of power and control that are built into priesthood/polygamy, and how the history of polygamy rolls over into contemporary times.

People are up in arms about the discrimination laws in Indiana, yet Indiana doesn't have squat over Utah when it comes to protecting religious freedom. One of the main proponents initiating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is Sen. Orrin Hatch. So, when the "Sister Wives" lawsuit went to a federal Utah court and a (Mormon) judge decriminalized polygamy using the First Amendment clause, saying the Browns should have the right to privacy and cohabitation (not that the Brown family live together or seem overly concerned about privacy on their reality show), it was a reminder of why I left Utah. Not even a scenic billboard would entice me back!

Victoria Prunty was a co-founder and director of Tapestry Against Polygamy in Salt Lake City. She lives in Sacramento, Calif.

 

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