Understanding Polygamy

July 2005

The polygamous Kingston family professes that their genealogy line traces back to Jesus Christ, and so they possess holy blood. Therefore, to keep the bloodline "pure," the Kingstons intermarry--half-brothers and sisters, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and so forth. Consequently, genetic diseases and mutations have inevitably sprouted in many polygamous groups having this belief. Various congenital and genital defects, dwarfism, fused limbs, fingernails lacking, mental illness and mental retardation, spina bifida, and microcephalous are some of the diseases and mutations.

Six brothers of the Kingston group have over 600 children among them, with the champion having sired 120.

Such was some of the material that journalist, researcher, and author Andrea Moore-Emmett presented in June's meeting. In addition to her book God's Brothel, her stories about polygamy have appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly. She also was researcher for "Inside Polygamy," a two-hour documentary that was aired on A&E and BBC.

In her speech was a brief overview of present-day polygamy in America which includes a host of renegade spilt-offs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as well as a few fundamentalist Christian groups. One of them, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in the border twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, openly practices polygamy with the full awareness of state authorities, yet this community continues to grow. The FLDS Church recently built and populated a large settlement near Eldorado, Texas, and purchased two tracts of land outside Mancos.

Many large FLDS families depend on welfare and food stamps to subsist. Multiple wives present themselves to social workers as single mothers while the patriarchs hide, smugly taking delight in "bleeding the beast," their term for defrauding the hated government.

Polygamy is perpetuated one generation after the next in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, California and elsewhere. The number of polygamists in North America, estimated at 50,000 or more, is doubling every decade. Polygamy is often subsidized through federal and state handouts, and many polygamists engage in tax evasion, welfare fraud, and even money laundering. Men are not required to support their families so wives and children survive with welfare benefits, food stamps, WIC, and Medicaid. Scrounging for food in dumpsters and garbage cans is not unusual.

Required by doctrine in many of the fundamentalist groups to bear one child per year, often without proper prenatal care, women live in a state of chronic pregnancy, their lives devoted to caring for husband and children; girls must drop out of school at a young age while boys in some instances may complete high school and college.

Groups that espouse religious freedom, including the American Civil Liberties Union, defend polygamy as an act among consenting adults and a victimless crime. However, Moore-Emmett contends that incest, statutory rape, torture, physical abuse, forced marriages, and trafficking of girls is rampant.

The plight of women and children growing up in a polygamous patriarchal system that Moore-Emmett described defiles intelligent reasoning. Often succumbing to the power of "groupthink" where brainwashing results in total acceptance of the prevailing belief system, women learn to endure physical abuse, poverty, and emotional pain of seeing their husbands have sex with other women. Groupthink is similar to Jim Jones's brainwashing where his followers drank the poisoned Kool-Aid in 1978.

Rather than polygamy being about religion, Moore-Emmett believes that many polygamous marriages are about sex and power. In her book God's Brothel is a collection of stories about eighteen women's journeys away from polygamy into freedom where life is still difficult but it is their own. These are the women of Tapestry Against Polygamy, a grass-roots endeavor whose function is to assist women to leave their lives of oppression and to begin new lives in which they make their own choices. Because of the doctrine of "blood atonement killings" (death for one's sins), several of these women live in hiding and fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

Her book also exposes some of the ineffectual attempts by the Department of Children's Services and the District Attorney's office to protect the children of polygamous marriage from physical and sexual violence. Moore-Emmett states that "The state legislature is consistently 90% Mormon...and several polygamist men serve in local government positions, including as mayors...and councilmen" (p. 31). Asserting that "the attitude between Mormons and Mormon fundamentalist polygamists is that of kissing cousins with more similarities than differences" (p. 30), Moore-Emmett suggests that the heavily Mormon Utah government is unduly tolerant of polygamy and reluctant to acknowledge the abuses of many polygamous families. Although the official stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is against polygamy, several of the women's stories reveal that LDS leaders dismiss the deviant sects and blame the women who come to them for help.

It is Moore-Emmett's belief that the LDS Church who started polygamy in this country should take responsibility and provide financial aid and other resources for those polygamous families who have been abused. For the time being, Tapestry Against Polygamy is the only group that actively helps polygamous women escape their abusive and oppressive lives. TAP has been in such dire straits that director Vicky Prunty has occasionally resorted to selling her own plasma to obtain enough funds to help women escape polygamy.

Through her book, public speaking, and other activities, Moore-Emmett is a voice that is bringing awareness to the public of the plight of many polygamous families and helping the abused see that there is hope outside their imprisoned lives.

--Sarah Smith