HBO criticized for polygamy show's ending

Published February 28, 2006 1:14 am

Disputed figures: SLC-based group says 'Big Love' underestimates practice and is soft on LDS stance
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An epilogue that will appear at the end of HBO's new series "Big Love" is causing as much controversy as its polygamy story line about a man with three wives - and the cable company hasn't even aired its first episode.

A founder of Tapestry Against Polygamy, a Salt Lake City-based group that advocates on behalf of victims who experience abuse within polygamous relationships, said the disclaimer mischaracterizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' stance on polygamy and the number of practicing polygamists in the U.S.

Vicky Prunty said her group has asked HBO to remove the statement, which will appear at the end of each episode of "Big Love." The new series is set to premiere March 12.

The epilogue states that attorneys general in Utah and Arizona have estimated there are 20,000 to 40,000 people in the United States who engage in polygamy. It also states that the LDS Church officially banned the practice in 1890.

Tapestry figures there are closer to 100,000 polygamists in the U.S., a count that includes Christian and so-called Mormon fundamentalists.

It also contended in a news release that the LDS Church has turned a "blind eye" and been apathetic about polygamy because members "still believe in it" and "look forward to a time when polygamy will no longer be against the law."

Prunty referred to an LDS Church scripture that includes the original revelation founder Joseph Smith said he received from God authorizing polygamy.

In 1890, as Utah campaigned for statehood, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff issued an "official declaration" discontinuing the practice as contrary to the laws of the land.

LDS Church spokesman Mark Tuttle said in a written response that Tapestry was not fairly representing the church's doctrine and quoted from a statement about "Big Love" posted on the faith's Web site.

"For decades, the Church and its leaders have spoken out against the illegal practice of polygamy and most recently the reports of child and wife abuse emanating from the polygamous communities today," the statement said.

It reiterated statements by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley that the church "has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy" and that those who do so are in violation of the law and the faith's standards.

"The role of the Church in this matter is to raise its moral voice, which it has done repeatedly," the statement said. "It is not to usurp the responsibilities that appropriately lie with the Legislature and law enforcement."

The LDS Church asked HBO to include the epilogue, something the creators of the show said they were already planning to do to clarify the church's position and for dramatic effect.

An HBO spokeswoman gave a terse defense of the "Big Love" epilogue late Monday: "Even though the [LDS Church] outlawed polygamy over 100 years ago there is still confusion and misinformation about the subject. We've felt the epilogue helps clarify that confusion."

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