Warren Jeffs, ‘Sister Wives,’ and American polygamy

Warren Jeffs, the spiritual head of a sect of the Fundamentalist Church Trent Nelson AP Warren Jeffs sits in the … Continued

Warren Jeffs, the spiritual head of a sect of the Fundamentalist Church

Trent Nelson

AP

Warren Jeffs sits in the Third District Court in Salt Lake City, Nov. 15, 2010.

of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), was sentenced Tuesday to a life in prison for sexually assaulting girls as young as 12, whom he calls his wives.

The FLDS group, disavowed by the mainstream Mormon church, claims to be living God’s commandment of plural marriage and cites ties to Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s first prophet and founder.

From the Associated Press’ account of the trial:

According to reports, Jeffs entered the Book of Mormon as evidence during the trial and referred to his rape of girls as young as 12 as “heavenly sessions.” Jeffs used his religious authority over his thousands of followers to commit crimes whose details are horrifying to read. Flora Jessup, who escaped an FLDS community before becoming an anti-polygamy activist, called Jeff’s conviction and sentencing “a long time coming.”

When crimes likes Jeffs’ are committed in the name of religion, American courts consider them punishable by law, regardless of the motivation. Claims of “religious freedom” need not apply in cases of abuse, officials say. That’s why Jeffs was convicted.

But what about consenting adults participating in polygamy? Should that be illegal, too?

Bryant Livingston

AP

Kody Brown, center, poses with his wives, from left, Janelle, Christine, Meri, and Robyn in a promotional photo for TLC’s reality TV show, “Sister Wives.”

Kody Brown and his four wives are members of a Apostolic United Brethren faith, a group also rejected by today’s Mormon Church, but one that claims its roots in Mormonism, too. The Browns are the stars of the TLC reality show Sister Wives, and recently filed suit in Utah to challenge that state’s anti-polygamy laws, which grants the state the power to prosecute consenting adult polygamists. From the New York Times’ report on the suit:

In a New York Times op-ed, George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley, who is representing the Browns, called the anti-polygamy law “a clear example of unacceptable government intrusion.” Acknowledging examples of abuse such as Warren Jeffs, Turley added, “the government should prosecute abuse wherever it is found. But there is nothing uniquely abusive about consenting polygamous relationships.” Like gay couples who have worked for state recognition of their relationships, Turley writes, “[the Browns] want to be allowed to create a loving family according to the values of their faith.” And, Turley says, the Browns are far from alone:

Some argue that de-criminalizing polygamy could actually empower women in these closed communities: take the polygamists out of hiding and abuses see the light of day. Other feminists and anti-polygamy activists say that the power dynamics of plural marriages are inherently unfair to women and the state should not condone them.

Legal or not, plural marriage takes place all across America. Mormon writer Joanna Brooks, who authored last week’s popular 5 Myths on Mormonism for the Post’s Outlook section, had this take:

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • artbab1

    With all the fuss about gay marriage vs civilian union, as well as the topics brought up, it is amazing how previously passed laws based on religious concepts are still being defended when society has changed so much.

    THE CONCEPT OF MARRIAGE SHOULD NO-LONGER BE A GOVERNMENTAL CONCERN.

    Let government deal with property rights, rights of children, inheritance, etc. and call it “civil union”. Such “unions” need not require “one man”- “one woman”, but will encompass all – multiple unions, gay unions, polygamy,etc.

    Let marriage be the concept/term a church decides it will countenance with whatever restriction it wishes to proclaim for its members.

    Each “civilian union” enacted by a government endorsed “contract or license”. People can then opt for a “religious” service to satisfy their personal beliefs.

    Why should concepts developed and based on religious principles enacted into law when nearly 100% of the population believed in them still apply when those religious principles are no-longer universally held?.

  • kucy1

    I SUPPORT FREE BIRTH CONTROL FOR ALL.

  • kucy1

    CAN’T AFFORD TO TAKE CARE OF A BABY? THEN DON’T MAKE ONE OR PUT IT UP FOR ADOPTION!

  • kucy1

    But, those who want a FREE lunch, will not use birth control and continue to be parasites feeding off the rest of society.

  • Curmudgeon10

    The more diverse the definitions of marriage become, the more likely friendly liberal courts will see Polygamy as just one other form. It’s just a matter of time.

  • JuniusPublicus

    As long as polyandry (the wife having more than one husband) is allowed.

  • lufrank1

    Well …..There are TIMES when “freedom” of religion shouldn’t apply … Think David Koresch, Charles Manson, the Jones mass suicides, disguised rape of children, etc.

    Warren Jeffs should be permanently removed from society (and preferably, castrated).

  • pechins

    It shows you don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of Mankind. He never taught polygamy was the correct way. He taught one man and one woman to procreate with children. It is understandable that in the preChristian era men were in short supply and it was needed to keep society going on an even keel. Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines. But I ask sometime read about Joseph Smith and what he really stood for. It is not good.

  • tmschlitzer

    No no, you’re thinking about it all wrongly in the case of Mormonism.

    Yes, Joseph Smith and his early compadres were pretty obviously sex-crazed people in power, who used the title of “prophet” to cow their wives and force themselves on other women, who were all caught up in the power.

    But in Mormonism, sex is related to fathering children. Period. Mormon men took lots of wives to give as many human bodies to the spirit children of their Mormon god and his many goddess wives. They are literally doing on earth what he is supposed to be doing in heaven. Having sex to impregnate.

    There is no “fun” sex, there is only sex to make a baby. The woman’s job is to have the baby. The more babies, the better the husband’s chance of becoming a god.

    This is all very standard Mormon history and very standard Mormon historical doctrine.

    The official position of the church is that polygamy is for the afterlife, so you can have multiple women sealed to you, but you can’t be married to them in the temple here on earth.

    The entire Mormon concept of polygamy is not sexy. Like most things Mormon, it’s pathetic.

  • yvondupuis

    I love my dog and cats, does that entitle me to marry them? What will be next. There is no longer any standard for marriage and we are headding in the wrong direction and will pay the price for doing so.

    It is unfortunate that a person breaking the law is glamorized in Hollywood and given all that money to thumb his nose at anyone who thinks different from them and openly challenge the laws of the land. What is the world coming to.

  • genericrepub

    Gay marriage and now plural marriage. Next beastial marriage? Adult-child marriages? What’s next? America she’s a changin’. Let’s see during President Obama’s watch, gay marriage has been upheld in some states. The Defense of Marriage Act is not being defended by the Justice Department. Now, let’s see how he deals with this one. Think Michelle will let him have another wife? I think, not.

  • gladerunner

    “I love my dog and cats, does that entitle me to marry them? What will be next.”
    You’re right, it’ll be exactly like what happened after women were given the right to vote, next came the goats, the cattle and the crawdads. Thank God we finally drew the line at mammals!

    Seriously, repeat this several times: “Consenting adult humans, consenting adult humans”

    “There is no longer any standard for marriage”
    You are completely wrong, there are many, many standards for marriage, what you are actually griping about is that some of them don’t match yours.

  • hurleyvision

    How many missing girls are in religious compounds? Elizabeth Smart of SLC was abducted. How many missing girls died in Jonestown? In Waco? How many missing girls are in the Eldorado, Texas Compound. DNA samples were taken and should be compared to Missing Persons Databanks. But political correctness says that won’t happen. The rights of those who kidnap and rape far exceed the rights of the victims.

  • cprferry

    Some have suggested that only brainwashed women would wish such a marriage. They’re saying polygamous partnerships can’t possibly be consensual because no one in their right mind would accept that. They must be brainwashed or exploited. Yet why not apply that logic to same sex relationships that must deny compatible physical union and reproduction and turn to self-destructive and sexually exploitative behaviors? If right-thinking human beings desire one committed spouse then certainly right-thinking human beings also desire the commitment and fullness, including their potential fertility, of their spouse.

  • DJ_Spanky

    Polygamy is illegal in the U.S. because it dilutes the power of American society to transfer wealth from men to women. Everything else is just chaff thrown out by the sex police to obscure that central fact.

  • pcgeorge

    One may fondly hope !

  • jailkkhosla

    Polygamy is practiced in Islamic societies including in the US. Polygamy in Islamic communities in the US is an open secret. I have personally witnessed such a marriage. the second wife was brought in under the pretense that she was the wife’s sister but we all knew because on of the children looked just like the alleged sister but the two sisters had no resemblance.

    Polygamy under sharia is nothing but legalized adultery. It may have had some justification if women also were permitted to have more than one spouse.

  • MarkThomason

    It is not “legalized adultery.” There is no cheating on wives, no lying to wives, and there is support of all wives and all children. Adultery is something quite different.

  • MarkThomason

    Child abuse and kidnapping have no defense. They also have nothing to do with plural marriage. The is far more of it without plural marriage.

  • MarkThomason

    Because some things should be illegal, a bigot should be able to impose any of his views on anyone?

  • MarkThomason

    Mostly they don’t bother with marriage either. Separate issue.

  • SODDI

    Get real. There are pockets, isolated communities and whole towns of these polygymous Mormons all over Utah, Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Law enforcement, government and family services all turn a blind eye to this.

    You can track them by breakouts of a congenital disorder called a fumerase deficiency. It’s caused by INBREEDING.

    You know what’s the difference between having six wives and smoking a joint is in Utah? You could get in REAL TROUBLE for smoking a joint!

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