Religious polygamy, in my mind, is a far different cry from consensual relationships involving more than one person.
I was born and raised in the LDS church until I was 12. At that time my father, Dave, who always had a problem with any type of authority but himself, decided it was time to leave the LDS church and set out on his own, as he finally knew what path the Lord wanted everyone to go on. He managed to rope a couple of people into his way of thinking, including a couple, B and M.
It was then that I first heard of polygamy, and I was astonished. A man having more than one wife? How was that okay? As a lonely and attention-deprived home-schooled girl who was often an outcast in even church social circles, I hung out with B and M every day; it was something different than being at home. They had started to give me funny smiles and were hinting that I ought to pray about reading certain scriptures. After days of their teasing and me trying my hardest to get God to “tell” me what to read, they hinted at Section 132, in the Doctrine and Covenants. Among other things, it reads:
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified. (D&C 132:61-62)
As a twelve-year-old who rarely read scriptures for fun, I was puzzled by this entire revelation and soon, M and B eagerly explained it to me: Men were allowed to have more than one wife.
“Do my parents know?” I gasped.
They both chuckled and informed me that my father had been the one to bring this to their attention. It was then that everything changed.
Polygamy Was My Life
I honestly don’t remember. I don’t remember how they told me. I don’t remember how I knew. I don’t remember much of anything but the surprise and the instant swirl of emotions when I realized:
They wanted me to become B’s wife. God wanted me to be this man’s wife. A guy actually wanted me to be his.
This, in all of it, was the biggest realization; as an awkward 12-year-old with very few friends, I certainly didn’t have boys falling all over me. In fact, they were usually telling me how stupid and ugly I was. I couldn’t remember ever being told that I was pretty — my mother just never thought of it, and my father never thought of anyone but himself. But now, someone wanted me to be theirs — an older man, even. At that point, I was too wrapped up in this validation along with B and M’s constant praises over the law of polygamy and my part in it to realize just how horrifying this all was. A 32-year-old man was making moves on a 12-year-old girl — and both he and his wife thought it was completely acceptable.
I’ll leave the gory details of our “courtship” and subsequent months of abuse for my memoir (coming to a store near you in—er, soon. I hope.) But before I knew it, I had suddenly been taken out of my pre-teens and thrust into a world of adulthood and extreme dysfunction that I would never again be without.
When my family and B and M’s family moved a couple of hundred of miles away from northern Utah and into a house together, every night was filled with scripture study and endless conversations about “plural marriage.” I soon discovered that my own father had set his eyes on a young 16-year-old girl and was absolutely certain the Lord wanted him to marry her. And soon. Thankfully, the girl escaped this fate when her father had his entire family leave the country. My dad (hereafter called Dave) was obsessed with this girl for the next 15 years and as far as I know, still is.
There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t reminded of polygamy in one way or another—usually an outright discussion or “lesson” of it, and I can’t count how many times I read Section 132. The condemnation of Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, is something that always frightened me; if this marvelous woman could receive such harshness from the Lord, what would happen to me?
Religious Polygamy Breeds Absolute Control on Many
Within months of claiming me as his own, B moved his family out of my house and to the “Allred Group” — also known as the Apostolic United Brethren. There, he became infatuated with a 15-year-old girl, took her out of the state, and impregnated her.
But polygamy didn’t leave my life. Dave gave constant reprimand to the entire family (my mother especially) for not being faithful enough. The Lord, he said, would not bless our family with any more wives until we could obey the commandment — and Dave — with complete humility. For the rest of my time at “home” (aka caves in the desert—no, really) I was told to prepare myself to be a second or third or God-knows-what wife.
When I voiced my opinion that I felt very strongly that I would be a first wife, I was instantly dismissed as being unfaithful and told, “Everyone wants to be a first wife. You need to let go of your pride.” Well, apparently I never did, because I married at 21, the first wife to another young man. Dave was livid, and proclaimed that he was to be the one to choose my husband, as my “patriarch.” By then I had absolutely had enough of this man, and had I been salty enough to use the words, “F*** you” with him then, they would have been well-deserved. But I packed my things, promised my siblings I would never lose touch with them, and eventually showed Dave just what I was made of when I took his wife and children away (or, as the rest of us call it, a “rescue.”)
But even with becoming mainstream LDS, then becoming not so mainstream through issues mentioned in my blog, I have not been able to escape polygamy. As my story has come out through papers and presentations, I have found myself getting more involved in speaking out against it. I see polygamists every single day; thoughts of polygamy and its variables are never far from my mind.
Speaking Out Against Polygamy
I presented my anti-polygamy paper at a national conference in New Orleans, LA, and another one in Ogden, Utah. This was in the spring of 2012, but my opinions haven’t changed. I have met two of the Brown family — they star in their own reality show, Sister Wives. Kody and Christine talked to me at the What Women Want show in St. George in 2012. Kody did not impress me with any more intelligence than what he shows on TV (which is basically none) but Christine quite impressed me with not only her confidence, but her compassion as she said, after hearing some of my story, “Oh, it must be so hard for you to watch our show.” Yeah. My family has grounded me from watching it since my blood pressure seems to reach incredible proportions.
And let’s make something clear: The Brown family belongs to Apostolic United Brethren. The church B and M joined. Kody has always tried to claim that the group does not support underage marriage, but when the scandal with Phil and the 15-year-old girl happened in early 1992, Kody was there. He had, in fact, recently joined the group — after coming home from his LDS mission. The young woman B took had also been raised with polygamy and, like me, thought that what was happening to her was okay, as B was to be her future husband. B as an adult, doesn’t get to make the excuse. Still, the girl’s parents allowed him to be around.
While the Browns frequently insist they have been unjustly prosecuted in the state of Utah, and even attempt to sue the state, they seem to forget a couple of things: First, they knew the law. They, like all other polygamists, willingly broke it as they see themselves following a “higher” law. They think they should be above prosecution apparently. (Warren Jeffs said the same thing.) Second, as they cite the Texas case, Lawrence v. Texas, in which it ruled that the laws preventing two gay men to consummate their relationship were unconstitutional. The Browns also should step back and be aware of their blatant hypocrisy; their religion condemns gay and lesbian relationships and calls them evil and hell-worthy. They don’t get to use to use a case that in reality is abhorred by their religion to give themselves an excuse.
Polygamy is Scattered All Over Utah
The FLDS have been in the news quite a bit — at least, around here. I was very surprised to learn that many of my east coast friends had never even heard of such a thing. Under the direction of “prophet” Warren Jeffs, the group lives in a run-down compound called Colorado City. With their own school and law enforcement, it is very easy for them to hide abuse and tyranny amongst their people.
They are people that I used to see every day when I lived in St. George. You all have too: In Walmart, usually, but at restaurants, parks, clothing stores, and the mall as well. The children, in their prairie dresses for girls and long-sleeved shirts and blue jeans for the boys, always look at mine with a sort of wistfulness that I am all too familiar with. I remember remarkably well what it is like to look at someone else and wonder what life on the “outside” must be like.
It is within the FLDS that hundreds of reports are emerging of sexual and physical abuse, underage marriages, arranged marriages, and complete neglect. Warren Jeffs is currently serving time in a Texas prison, and one of his charges is marrying, then raping, a 12-year-old girl. When he was arrested, the audio tape of this rape, conducted in the temple with a few other wives, was found on his person. A picture of Warren and his 12-year-old bride can be found all over the Internet. I have done hours and hours of research on the FLDS, and have far too many experiences as well; the FLDS and my thoughts on it could be an entire blog on its own.
In April of 2013, four polygamist women from Centennial Park, (not far from Colorado City, the FLDS compound) came to Dixie State University to defend their right to live their plural lifestyle like they choose. It was filmed for their upcoming television show on National Geographic. They came to argue why polygamy should be legalized, and to show that their lifestyle should be accepted as another alternative.
My friend, Dr. Joel Lewis, was the one in charge and willingly brought the microphone to me during the questions segment. I stood and plainly told a bit of my story, wondering why they think legalizing polygamy would reduce the number of crimes like mine; I stated that I thought it would be like a justification to such men. Because, really, no matter what this government says, men such as Warren Jeffs, Dave, Phil and others believe they are above the law and will do what they want. I believe that they will look at the change in law and use it to further justify what they want. An age limit set in this law isn’t going to stop them.
The response I got was a very round-about answer on how abuse is abuse but has nothing to do with polygamy. I beg to differ. While obviously all sorts of abuse occurs away from polygamy, there is no doubt in my mind that much of it is bred and encouraged in this overly-religious way of life.
Religious Polygamy is NOT Marital Equality
Now, others will argue about marriage equality, which I support of course. But having one person in charge of the relationship that deems whenever someone else can join the relationship is not equality. The wives are there as “helpmeets” for the husband and are not given much, if any, choices in the matter.
However, this is the case in the FLDS, the Apostolic Brethren, and hundreds of independent “fundamentalists” as they all follow the same teachings of what they believe will get them to the highest heavenly reward.
Religious polygamy, in my book, will never be okay. Never. I have met polygamists I like; love, even. They have impressed me with their intelligence and yes, sometimes, even their convictions. But until I see an equal granting of rights and reasoning, I won’t believe that this is a healthy way to live. And I will never, ever believe in the religion that makes any human being into a slave for another. The FLDS and other smaller groups have done just that. I am a product of such a thing and you can damn well bet that I will forever speak out against it. I don’t care how many times I have to repeat my ugly story, or how many disgusted looks I get along the way.
A wonderful woman once told me, “Never share your husband or your toothbrush.”
I think I’m going to stick with that.
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