A Second Wife's Tale
A woman who spent 33 years in a plural marriage describes why she supports polygamy but opposes the sect leader Warren Jeffs.
When you say you practice without a strong leader like that, what do you mean? Are you a member of a Mormon church?I was for years a member of the LDS church. However, because of my beliefs, I am no longer a member.
A lot of people criticize polygamy as being inherently degrading to women.
I feel like it's just the opposite. It's not degrading at all. I'm a very independent woman. I liked my time, where I could do things on my own, and I could go out for dinner and a movie with my girlfriends, or I had one-on-one time with my kids. I just feel like it really gives the woman the best of both worlds, because she has more free time, and yet she has wonderful quality time with her husband as well.
A lot of the families will live together in the same house. Maybe there's two or three wives, and they live together and get along fine. Some of them maybe prefer to have their own homes. That's the way our family particularly decided on it, and that was our choice. Our husband didn't say, "Oh no, you have to live in the same home," or, "You have to live separately." We got to decide what would work best for our particular family.
In your marriage, what were some of the biggest challenges of the arrangement?
I could not tell some of my immediate family. For example, my parents. And that was very hard, because I would have liked to have told them, but they believed in the orthodox LDS church, and they felt like polygamy should not be lived right now. If they knew that I lived it, it would have caused a lot of sadness. So I didn't tell them for a long time. They eventually knew before they died. That was probably the hardest for me, that I couldn't tell people I would have liked to have told. I would like to have said, "I am so happy in this. This is the lifestyle for me."
How many polygamists do you estimate there are in America today?
You need to make a distinction. What I've understood--and I have no firsthand knowledge--is that there are approximately 100,000 Christian polygamists. They live it as a Bible law or maybe as a cultural law, a matter of convenience, all kinds of reasons.
And then there are what we call fundamentalist Mormons, and I did a survey recently about that, and there were probably about 37,000 that belong to a group or are independents. But among those, there are probably only 50%--and that's a real rough estimate--that actually live plural marriage. There are a lot of people who believe in it, but for whatever reason haven't lived it yet or maybe there spouses died or left.
What are the prospects for getting polygamy legalized?
What we are aiming for, at least as a first step, is to get it decriminalized, which means just to remove the criminal penalty from it. Right now, if a fellow has a job and his boss finds out he's got two or three wives, he can fire him, because he's guilty of a felony. Maybe he's doing a very good job, and the only thing the employer can find wrong is that he's living polygamy. He can fire him for that. I feel like that's really unfair.
Probably the first step is to get it reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. It is a felony in Utah.
Do you think there is openness in our culture to your lifestyle, more so than in the past?
I think so. People are more accepting of alternative lifestyles between consenting adults. The Lawrence v Texas case showed that--anything in your bedroom should be allowed. I feel like society, generally speaking, is a little bit more ready to accept and learn more about the polygamous lifestyle. Not that they're going to run and join and have a bunch more wives, but I think they're more understanding of our choices to do that.
I have to ask: Do people in your community watch the HBO show "Big Love?"
Even though that show is about our lifestyle, the friends that I have, most of them don't even have HBO. So if we were to watch it, we'd have to go to a friend's house who did have it. And that's what I did. I have a friend who is not a polygamist, and she has very high moral standards, don't get me wrong, it's just that they like HBO.
So I went to her house and watched it, and I also have copies of all 12 episodes. The first two were very offensive because of the graphic sex scenes that they display. That was hard to watch. We realize people have intimacy. We're not averse to that at all. But to watch it be portrayed as they portray it was very difficult. So after you got beyond the first two episodes, we were fine with it. It was very compelling. We liked the actors. A lot of the experiences they had were somewhat similar to reality, and there were some that weren't. But we enjoyed it, generally speaking.
Interview by Michael Kress