Plural marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sort of polygamy (more properly called polygyny) formerly practiced by some members, during the church's 19th century founding days.

Its practice among church members substantially subsided after the Church issued a "Manifesto" against the practice in 1890. However, a few members continued to practice plural marriage privately with the approval of a few Church leaders until a second proclamation was issued by the Church in the early 1900s. Under that proclamation, those who continued to practice it became subject to excommunication from the Church.

The Church continues to forbid the practice under the penalty of excommunication, and Church leaders have asked that groups who do practice it should not be referred to as "Mormons" or "Mormon fundamentalists." It should be noted that the term Mormon is itself contraversal for some.

Table of contents
1 Origin
2 The practice of polygyny
3 Joseph Smith's wives
4 Critical views
5 See Also
6 Reference


In the process of re-translating the Bible, Joseph Smith, Jr, the founder of the Church, prayed about the polygynous practices of biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He claimed to have received a revelation from God regarding plural marriage (see Doctrine and Covenants 132), and a new commandment from God to take more wives. In one account Joseph was reluctant to practice polygyny, and did so only because an angel appeared and told Joseph that he would be cut off if he continued to disobey the Lord's commandment.

The practice of polygyny

Polygyny was practiced as early as 1833 although the practice was not publicly taught until 1852, some five years after the Mormons came to Utah, and eight years after Smith's death. Smith introduced the doctrine to select individuals, some of whom (such as Brigham Young) were told to take more wives. Some Mormon leaders at the time voiced their objection to the practice and left the Church. Others struggled with their consciences and agreed to the practice only after much prayer. Brigham Young famously said that after the doctrine was communicated to him, he would gladly have traded places with the body in a hearse he saw passing down the street, than embrace this new doctrine. In one instance the first mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett, was excommunicated for the adulterous practice of "spiritual wifery."

Some of those who left or were driven from the Church set out to expose Smith and his alleged corruption. Eventually this antagonism led to Joseph surrendering himself to jail for charges of riot and treason. While imprisoned, a mob rushed the jail and murdered Smith.

Joseph Smith's wives

Although there is some disagreement as to the precise figure, Joseph Smith was married to about 33 wives during his life. Under the doctrine of plural marriage, the first wife's consent should be given before a man should marry another wife. However, Joseph Smith's first wife, Emma, was at times opposed to the practice and Joseph probably married some women without Emma knowing beforehand. Some of Joseph's wives were older women and some of them young, the youngest being Helen Mar Kimball who was 14. Some of Joseph Smith's wives were also married to other men (usually other Mormon men in good standing) at the time they married Smith, despite polyandry being officially forbidden by the church.

Typically these women continued to live with their first husband, not Smith. There is evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with some of his other wives and may have fathered a few children by some, which would also be highly forbidden.

Critical views

According to sympathizers, Joseph, Brigham Young and other prominent Church leaders were reluctant to embrace the practice of plural marriage especially given their strict Victorian morals. Some critics contend that Smith at first committed adultery with Fanny Alger, a young maid in the Smith household, and later invented the doctrine of plural marriage to legitimize his immorality.

Some critics argue the LDS church is disingenous in its dismissal of plural marriage, since men can currently be sealed in LDS temples to more than one woman simultaneously, while women cannot be sealed to more than one man, (Devout Mormons consider such sealings as eternal, outlasting mortal life and civil marriages) and because of charges that plural marriage is still a seminal belief to Mormons, though it is not often discussed. Except under very unusual circumstances (a so-called "temple divorce"), men cannot be sealed to a second wife while the first is still living. It is unclear what the presumed status of widowers who are re-sealed is after death, if it is not an effective plural marriage.

See Also


  • Todd Compton; In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith; Signature Books; ISBN 1-56-085085-X (Hardcover, 1997)
  • Anne Eliza Young; Wife No. 19 (1876); Ayer Co Publishing ISBN 0-40-504488-7 (Hardcover, 1978); Kessinger Publishing, LLC ISBN 0-76-614048-2 (Paperback, 2003)