40,000 Utah Residents in Polygamous Marriages; They Are Not Mormons, Group Says

A Mormon organization said that the 40,000 or so people in polygamous marriages highlighted in a recent report on Utah, where the practice is said to be thriving, are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which excommunicates such groups.

"The people who belong to these groups are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are not Mormon," Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a nonprofit group responding to questions about LDS doctrine, belief and practice, shared with The Christian Post in an email on Monday.

"Calling these groups Mormon, is somewhat like calling the Lutheran or Episcopal churches 'Roman Catholic.' While somewhere in history there was common background, they are not the same denomination today."

Gordon's comments are in response to an AFP report published earlier this week which takes a look at some of the estimated 40,000 people in Utah who live in polygamous marriages, including some families which say their lifestyle follows fundamentalist Mormon beliefs.

A federal judge ruled in December that Utah's ban on polygamous marriages is unconstitutional, arguing it is at odds with the right to freedom of religion.

"That's been one of the great things about the ruling – the decriminalization, and the judge saying basically that the state needs to stay out of people's bedrooms," said Alina Darger, a lawyer working on polygamy cases and who is also in a polygamous marriage.

"As long as it's adults freely choosing what they want, then I don't feel it would be my place to tell somebody else you can't choose to love who you love."

The AFP article noted that the LDS church, which initially allowed polygamy, renounced the practice in the 1890s due to government pressure.

Gordon told CP, however, that although there was indeed significant amount of government pressure on the church, it was a revelation to Wilford Woodruff, the church's president at the time, that caused the change to take place.

"In May of 1890 he issued a manifesto stating to 'refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.' He also asserted that all future discussions regarding marriage should teach monogamy," the FairMormon president pointed out.

"At that time, we were a people fighting for our religious liberty and the survival of our Church. Individuals had gone to jail fighting for this principle. So, just as it is difficult to stop a train, it was difficult to immediately stop the practice of plural marriage."

He added that the LDS Church has been excommunicating members who engage in any way in plural marriages since 1904, when then Church President Joseph F. Smith re-affirmed the position of Woodruff.

As for the families and groups still practicing polygamy today, he said many of them claim their roots from some of those early excommunicated members.

"Most members of modern polygamist groups have never been Mormon, but are grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who turned away from LDS Church leaders and were excommunicated," Gordon noted.