Jeffs--who had been a fugitive before his arrest Tuesday and faces charges of sexual misconduct for arranging marriages involving underage girls--leads one such community, called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), based in Hildale, Utah, and nearby Colorado City, Arizona.
Anne Wilde is the community relations director of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices--which organized the Salt Lake rally--the co-author of "Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage," and a fundamentalist Mormon unaffiliated with Jeffs' group. She spoke to Beliefnet about fundamentalist Mormonism, her differences with Jeffs, and her own plural marriage.
Why is plural marriage important to you? It's a strongly held religious conviction. However, that isn't the reason that we have gone public. We're really working toward equal civil rights. We're trying to separate the religious part from the civil part, and eventually we'd like to see polygamy decriminalized so consenting adults can live it more freely.
Are you yourself in a plural marriage?
I was for 33 years. I was his second wife, and very, very happy in it. My husband and I had a beautiful marriage. We did a lot of things, like writing books, that we enjoyed doing together. He died four years ago. But I still consider myself a polygamist at heart.
Have you kept up with the other wife or wives?
They've all passed away, except for one, and she and I see each other frequently.
How many were there?
A few. I never say how many. I can't answer for them, even though they've passed away.
What is your reaction to Warren Jeffs' arrest?
My first reaction was one of relief that that part of it is over. When you have a strong leader over a community for that long, eventually it seems to explode from within. I am glad that he was taken peacefully--there was no bloodshed, I don't think anybody wants that. I'm hoping he can get a fair trial, just like anyone else. I think he's entitled to that. It'll be interesting to see more of the particulars as time goes on.
Is Warren Jeffs connected with your group?
Not at all. Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist LDS church is only one of many fundamentalist groups. I've never met him, and I don't particularly want to meet him. I know some of the people who have left his community, but I am glad to say I am not associated with his leadership in any way.
Why are you glad about it?
I understand that he has exercised a lot of control over his people and has condoned and even married underage women. I believe that a girl ought to be 18, generally speaking, before she gets married, in monogamy or polygamy. And so there are things I've heard have gone on in that community that I am glad I am not a part of. And yet I still respect a lot of people that are members of that group.
I am glad you brought up this issue of young girls being taken into marriages.
I do not condone that or recommend it, and we've talked to the leaders of most of the other groups [fundamentalist Mormon groups, aside from Jeffs' FLDS], and they are beginning to feel the same, if they haven't always. They recommend 18 as the youngest age for marriage.
What do you think the future of Jeffs' movement is?
I think it's already factioned, to some degree. There are people down in Colorado City that don't seem to have a leader. Or maybe they do--I don't associate with them that closely. But it seems to me, from what I've heard, that they don't have a local leader down in Colorado City, and so I don't know if there will be other leaders who will come up and take Warren's place. That remains to be seen.
What is the difference between fundamentalist Mormons and mainstream LDS members?
We [fundamentalists] do not have one particular organized church. It consists of several groups and independents. The LDS church, of course, had it [polygamy] as one of their beliefs and practices in the early years of the church. They voted on it in 1852 as a tenet of the church, and then in 1890, they discontinued the practice, generally, in the church. But we believe, as fundamentalist Mormons, that it is a priesthood law and it can be lived separate from the church. So that's what we do. We distinguish ourselves from the mainstream LDS church.
However, as fundamentalist Mormons, people often get us confused with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is led by Warren Jeffs. They happen to have the term "fundamentalist" in the name of their church, so that confuses people, when really they are only a group that consists of about one quarter of the total population of fundamentalist Mormons in general.
I consider myself to be an independent fundamentalist Mormon. So that means I do not belong to a group, nor do I look for any strong leader to tell me how to live my religion. We have many friends that belong to the various groups, and we respect them, and we associate with them frequently.