Disclaimer Questions

Yes, I watched “Big Love” last night and liked it more than I thought I would. But my question is about disclaimer at the end:

According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general’s offices, July 2005, ‘approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently practice polygamy in the United States.’

The Mormon Church officially banned the practice of polygamy in 1890.

Does anybody know how many of those 20-to-40 thousand people are part of a religious group that, at some point, splintered from the church. How many are our “bastard children?” In other words, if the LDS church had never practiced polygamy, what would be the current number of polygamists in the U.S.? And if it is a sizable percentage, does this place any additional responsibilities on the church or its members to speak out for or against law enforcement and public policy regarding polygamy?


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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17 Responses

  1. J. Stapley says:

    I’m not sure, but if you want to see something trippy, check this out:


  2. John says:

    Polygamy in other Western nations seems to be tied to immigrant populations, especially those from certain countries in Africa.

    Here’s a few articles that might be of interest:

    150,000+ living in polygamy in France
    Polygamy within the Minnesota Hmong community
    London Times article about polygamous Muslims in Britain

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    I think that disclaimer is pretty weasly. Imagine if the topic were immigration and it said:

    “According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general’s offices, July 2005, ‘approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently move illegally into the United States.’

    The US gov’t officially banned such immigration in 1890.”

    In other words, the ‘officially banned’ line following fast on the heals of the stats makes it sound as if they are just turning a blind eye on the problem and not really committed to stopping it.

  4. Sue says:

    “In other words, the ‘officially banned’ line following fast on the heals of the stats makes it sound as if they are just turning a blind eye on the problem and not really committed to stopping it. “

    Well, isn’t that sort of the case? Of course, polygamy will get you excommunicated immediately, but I haven’t noticed the church exerting their considerable political power to pressure the powers-that-be to do something about the not exactly closeted polygamists living among us. I don’t know if that’s necessarily warranted, but in light of that, I think the disclaimer is fairly accurate.

  5. Anonymous says:


    Can you give an example of what the Church could do to “exert their considerable political power to pressure”?

  6. Sue says:

    Anonymous, Look at how politically involved the church has been in the gay marriage issue. Because they feel it is a moral issue, and not just a political/legal issue, they stepped up involvement. If the church wanted to, they could make it an issue. They choose not to.

    As I said before, I don’t necessarily agree that it is the place of the church to take an active role in prosecuting Utah polygamists. I don’t think they are taking an active role. That is my point. That is why the disclaimer is accurate. I don’t think it’s weasley. I think it’s fair.

  7. John says:

    The thing about this disclaimer that bothers me the most is that the Church has only *outlawed* polygamy–that is, it’s stopped practicing it in the temporal sense. The Church still practices polygamy in the spiritual sense–where it really counts in the eternities.

    Think about how easy it is for a man married in the temple to get a second temple marriage. Men can be sealed ot more than one woman. Women cannot be sealed to more than one man. If that isn’t polygamy, what is?

    I’ve watched women in the Church suffer all sorts of anguish as they jump through all sorts of Church bureacratic hoops trying to get a cancellation of their first sealing (and in one case, securing it but having to live with their children being sealed to her first abusive husband).

  8. Anonymous says:

    What more do you propose they do? If it is already illegal, what is the next step?

    In my opinion, the Church has been active in the gay marriage issue because there is a powerful movement to make it legal.

    If there was a legitimate push to make polygamy legal, then I’m betting the Church would become active on the issue. However, since it is illegal and nobody with any power is influencing it to become legal, are we to expect the Church to somehow pressure the government to enforce the law?

  9. Sue says:

    Anonymous – I’m not sure if you read my comment. I don’t care if they do more or not.

    I was responding to Julie’s comment that the disclaimer makes it sound like they are not really committed to stopping it. And they aren’t. Should they have to be? I don’t know. I don’t care. My point is that the disclaimer isn’t unfair. It’s accurate.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Now that I re-read your comments I can see you were not advocating for action. Sorry for misinterpreting you.

    I would agree with you that the statement is accurate, but I still think that the intention of the statement’s writer is to imply negligence on the part of the Church.

  11. amelia says:

    i don’t think the church does anything about polygamy because, as john pointed out, they have themselves in a moral quandary. it’s illegal. but it remains part of our doctrine. so they can’t push to have it enforced on moral grounds, because it would be contradictory to doctrine.

    as the gay marriage issue develops, i think this will become even more a problem. polygamy is as deep a challenge to traditional western concepts of marriage and family as gay marriage is. and there are those who will push for legalization of polygamy if gay marriage is legalized. and then where will the church be on the issue?

  12. Deborah says:

    I wonder if, through the years, there have been any internal discussions about taking D&C 132 out of the cannon. Anyone know?

    About an hour ago, one of my co-workers approached me to talk about the show. “Did you see the statistic at the end?” she asked. Are all of those folks former Mormons?”

    “Um . . . I asked a similar question on my blog yesterday . . .” The conversation moved from polygamists to early LDS suffragists (the ironic interplay between suffrage and polygamy in the Utah territory) to temples vs. chapels. Fascinating stuff. We’ve agreed to have a weekly “Big Love” de-brief-a-thon.

    Back to numbers . . . the latest Newseek article seems to imply that this number (twenty to forty thousand) is tied in some way to the church and its history. The actual number of polygamists in the US is probably higher due to immigration patterns. Again, if anyone knows more about these statistics, I’d love to hear it. . . How many splinter groups are still alive and kicking?

  13. Deborah says:

    J. Stapley:

    The trippiest part about that website is the “wife wanted” ads . . . yow!

  14. Anonymous says:

    If, as you and Sue say, the Church is doing nothing, what would qualify as doing something?
    I’m still trying to picture what it is that we, as a church, are not doing.

  15. amelia says:

    polygamy is a problem in utah and northern arizona. there are sizabel populations–entire towns–where it is practiced. while many of the people involved are consenting adults, many of the wives are married when they’re quite young girls and there are many incidents of abuse. the church could use its political sway to call for the enforcement of anti-polygamy laws. it could define this as a moral issue (which is how it justifies asking its members to take a prescribed stance on gay marriage) and ask its members to work for stricter legislation and enforcement of existing legislation to redress the wrongs which arguably arose out of the church’s historical practices (both open polygamy and the polygamy that continued to be practiced by mormons in mexico after the interdiction against the practice in the states).

    i’m not saying i think it *should* do these things; just that it *could* do them. but it won’t because they can’t define as immoral a practice that remains in our cannon as part of God’s plan. and that position will have the church in a rather awkward position, i think, as the gay marriage debate continues to heat up. because we object to gay marriage as an immoral bastardization of the family and polygamy is widely defined (even by many mormons) as the same. it will become increasingly more difficult, in my opinion, to call one immoral but not the other. i think there’s a line they can walk through the tangle, but it’s a fine one.

    this is all merely my opinion. i have no doubt there are many who disagree with it. but i think it’s a dilly of a pickle.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Looks like they might have to revise those disclaimer questions a bit: