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PolyRomnogamy: Mitt’s many great-grandmothers

Polygamy provides one of several tongue-in-cheek themes for the humor in the comedic romp that is Senseless Confidential. But in real life it is a serious business, practiced in the United States predominantly by offshoots of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), which no longer condones the practice and has no affiliation with the “apostate” churches the religion has spawned over the last 182 years.

Occasionally polygamy pops into the consciousness of the mainstream media, as with the case of polygamous leader Warren Jeffs, jailed a few years back for his role in the “taking” of underage girls to wife (a fact that is mentioned in the novel). But, more recently, polygamy has been in the spotlight because of the ascendance of Willard Mitt Romney as a contender for the U.S. presidency. It’s no secret that GOP Presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney comes from a line of polygamous Mormons, back in the day when the Salt Lake City–based main branch of the faith actively practiced “the principle” of Celestial Marriage, the sealing of multiple wives to select, “worthy” men “for time and all eternity.”

Romney is descended from two lines of polygamists, through his great-grandfathers Miles Romney and Parley P. Pratt, the latter a hero of Mormonism later murdered in Arkansas by a vengeful husband from California whose wife Pratt stole fora plural wife after converting her to Mormonism .

Romney biographer Lawrence Wright says of the polygamous Romneys:

Although Romney, like other Mormons, defends the practice of polygamy in the early days of the Church by pointing to a surplus of women in Utah, census reports for the time show roughly equal numbers of men and women. Church leaders were told to take multiple wives and “live the principle.” In religions where polygamy is still practiced — for example, in Islam — the number of wives is usually a reflection of the husband’s wealth; the currency behind Mormon polygamy, however, seems to have been spiritual. Only men are given the priesthood power of salvation, and through them women gain access to the celestial kingdom. Faithful women were naturally drawn to men who they believed could guarantee eternal life; in fact, Brigham Young authorized women to leave their husbands if they could find a man “with higher power and authority” than their present husband. Apparently, many of them did, as shown by the rate of divorce at the time.

It’s interesting to note that it’s census numbers that contradict the oft-repeated claim of “more women than men” used to justify Mormon polygamy, because the main character in Senseless Confidential, Nick Prince, is a harried employee of the U.S. Census Bureau, who stumbles upon a secretive polygamous clan deep in the forests of the Oregon Cascades in the tiny almost-town of Elwood. Unlike many real-life experiences with polygamy, Nick’s are humorous.

So, go ahead and laugh as you read Senseless Confidential; just remember that for many women and children—as well as the men either forced into the practice by domineering religious leaders—it is a deadly serious subject. That is true as well for the young men driven out of polygamous communities in order to eliminate rivals or reduce competition for older, already-married men looking to add to their spousal collection.

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