General Question

occ's avatar

Mormon polygamists?

Asked by occ (4083points) May 25th, 2008

Last night I watched the first few episodes of HBO’s Big Love on DVD. Since I’m Jewish and wouldn’t want anyone who had never met a Jew judgding me based on having watched Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl, I feel like I probably shouldn’t use the TV show to draw any substantial conclusions about Mormon polygamist families. Then again, I live in San Francisco and don’t know any Mormons who I can ask. So, for those of you out there who are LDS or have LDS friends, how realistic is this series? Are there modern (non-compound-risiding) Mormons who are practicing polygamy? Does it resemble the way the family on Big Love is set up – separate houses, etc? Anything else you can dish or explain? I’m fascinated.

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11 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

The people who practice polygamy are a small, fundamentalist splinter group that’s not part of the Church of Latter Day Saints: That’s about all I know, though.

jrpowell's avatar

I lived in Utah for a while. I was unaware of the practice. I knew of it, I just never saw it. And I lived in a hard-core little Mormon town.

occ's avatar

In the TV series, the family used to be part of the fundamentalist sect – but no longer live there, and seem strongly opposed to the sect’s way of life. This is what seemed particularly unrealistic to me – that the 1st wife should be so opposed to the polygamist sect’s way of life, and still agree to have her husband take a new wife after she had been married to him for over ten years and had a number of children with him. She doesn’t seem to be so religious, and she resents the sect leader, and they live away from the sect – so why would she encourage her husband to take 2 new wives??

marinelife's avatar

1. Polygamy is illegal in the United States.

2. Polygamy is a paternalistic abuse of power. If not, where are all the women polygamists with families of husbands who go out and procure her things?

3. In the sect, not only are the women and girls limited to narrow lives of sex and child rearing, the young boys who are “extra” (because if the powerful men have many wives, there are not enough women to go around) are literally driven off with no resources.

To me, it seems little better than slavery.

PupnTaco's avatar

I recommend Jon Krakauer’s excellent book “Under the Banner of Heaven.”

occ's avatar

Marina – I agree with you, and am certainly no advocate of polygamy. Just anthropologically curious abou this practice…

judochop's avatar

that show is one giant oxymormon.

marinelife's avatar

@occ Sorry if I was a big strong in my response. I know you are a thoughtful, caring person from your Fluther answers. I probably was a little pent up since from the moment I heard about “Big Love,” I was grossed about by the lengths to which a network will go to make money.

MormonSoprano's avatar

Occ – I am always profoundly grateful when an intelligent person comes along like yourself who realizes they should “go to the source” for their information. I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are a few basic answers to your question which may help:

1. “Mormon” is a nickname.
This nickname is derived from an additional book of scripture we study and revere called the Book of Mormon. It is a compilation of prophetic records written on the ancient American continent and translated by Joseph Smith. We study the Book of Mormon in addition to the Holy Bible, and other sacred texts.

2. “Mormons” DO NOT practice polygamy.
Unfortunately, the faithful LDS community must continually clarify and plead with the world to understand this. Many are confused due to inaccurate information being published and promoted. Sadly, there continues to be groups of people bound and determined to slander our name and stir up hatred (not unlike what the Jewish religion has endured). Despite good-faith efforts on our part to educate, the media and Hollywood continue to display our religion in a dishonest & unfair light. In the early history of our church, there was a limited practice of polygamy. This was discontinued way back in 1890. Any Latter-day Saint choosing to practice polygamy since that time has been immediately excommunicated.

Which brings us to point #2

2. People who practice Polygamy are NOT “MORMONS”!
Plural marriage is illegal. Thus, “Fundamentalist” groups who practice polygamy generally choose to live sequestered from mainstream society. They are not associated with the Latter-day Saints / “Mormons” in any way. They do not dress the same or worship the same. They may or may not read the Book of Mormon. Each sects beliefs vary depending upon their leadership. Some have called themselves “Zionists” or “Children of God”. They do not call themselves Mormon. However, because these persons usually refuse to speak to the media and live in closed communities, “Mormon” has been a quick and easy label for reporters and the general public to use. However, these groups should NOT be referred to as “Mormons”. Here are official statements:

3. The “Big Love” series does not bring any semblance of reality to TV. (what’s new) The series is a Hollywood fantasy based on a sensational subject to pump up their ratings and titilate viewers.

To read more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”) beliefs, I encourage you to continue to go directly to the source. At you may chat live with a full-time missionary, or request a missionary living in your area to visit you. They will share a free copy of the Book of Mormon with you, and can answer your questions in greater detail. Other official websites are and

I invite you to read my personal site at
My post “One-mormon-view-of-polygamy” addresses this particular subject in greater detail.

Thank you for asking a great question. I hope that this answer has helped.

thegodfather's avatar

Here’s the scoop:

The practice of polygamy in the church began with Joseph Smith. It’s likely he married his first plural wife in the 1830s (Fanny Alger), but this is still considered controversial among many historians. He definitely began marrying other women in the 1840s, but he never taught the practice to the general church membership, though he did share the doctrine of polygamy with some close associates.

Then, when the Mormons were driven from Illinois and decided to leave the U.S. altogether, they settled in what is now the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Church leaders practiced polygamy then, and eventually taught it to the general church membership. For a few decades they practiced polygamy, but (to make a long, long story short) the U.S. government eventually put pressure to stop the practice after Utah had become an official territory of the U.S. under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico.

OK, so at this point, the U.S. tried various methods to suppress polygamy, but it was difficult because of the First Amendment right to practice one’s religion. The Poland Act, the Edmunds Act, and others were instituted to make polygamy illegal, but they never really worked until the Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed. This Act disenfranchised the Mormon Church, forced women to testify against their husbands, and allowed the government to put those under suspicion of practicing polygamy behind bars without bail or rights to habeas corpus. At this point, Wilford Woodruff, president of the church, issued what is known as “The Manifesto” where he officially ended the practice of polygamy as a teaching of the church. The U.S. allowed those Mormon families to not be broken apart, but no new plural marriages were allowed.

Some Mormons continued to marry plural wives for a short time after, and Joseph F. Smith, the church’s sixth president, issued what is known as “the Second Manifesto” wherein he said that any who entered plural marriage from that time on would be excommunicated from the church. This happened in the very early 20th century. Since then, the church has held to this standard. If you run into polygamists who call themselves Mormon, realize that if they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they will be excommunicated.

So, given this history, and what today’s overwhelming majority of Mormons practice, Big Love is way, way off.

hurricane92596's avatar

Those mormons who are polygamist are fundamentalist mormons. True mormons like myself are not polygamist mormons.

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