All over the news this weekend, all across the globe, was an Associated Press article about the polygamy of Mitt Romney’s ancestors. Journalists Jennifer Dobner and Glen Johnson have written an article that not only details the multiple marriages of Mr. Romney’s great- and great-great grandparents, but also takes a look at the history of polygamy in the LDS Church. The article begins:
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church, the Republican presidential candidate’s great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.
Both Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, have made light of Mormonism’s polygamy. As noted by the AP,
Romney has joked about polygamy, saying in various settings that to him, “marriage is between a man and a woman … and a woman and a woman.”…This month, Ann Romney tried a different tack, taking a lighthearted jab at her husband’s main Republican competitors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as she introduced Romney at a Missouri GOP dinner.
The biggest difference between her husband and the other candidates, Ann Romney said, is that “he’s had only one wife.”
McCain has been married twice; Giuliani three times.
But the AP article makes it clear that Mormon polygamy has never been a laughing matter.
Mr. Romney’s great-grandmother, Hannah Hood Hill, the first of Mr. Romney’s great-grandfather’s five wives, wrote an autobiography that “offers an eyewitness account of the Romney family’s polygamous past.”
Hood Hill wrote of Miles Park Romney: “I felt that was more than I could endure, to have him divide his time and affections from me. I used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow. If anything will make a woman’s heart ache, it is for her husband to take another wife. …But I put my trust in my heavenly father, and prayed and pleaded with him to give me strength to bear this great trial.”
The AP article also reports:
Romney’s great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt, an apostle in the [LDS] church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley Pratt’s brother and fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, became the first church official to publicly proclaim and defend polygamy as a direct revelation from God.
Not noted in the article but pertinent to this discussion, Parley Pratt was murdered in 1857 by the legal husband of Parley’s 12th wife.
The other Pratt brother, Orson, almost lost his life due to polygamy as well. Returning from serving as a missionary in Great Britain, Orson learned that while he had been away, Joseph Smith had attempted to wed Orson’s wife, Sarah, in plural marriage. Distraught, Orson disappeared. Later found alive by a search party, the Prophet claimed Orson had tried to commit suicide (see Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, A Book of Mormons, 211ff).
No, polygamy is not a laughing matter. Mr. Romney does seem to recognize that at times. The AP article observed:
But in serious moments [Mitt Romney] has called the practice [of polygamy] “bizarre” and noted his church excommunicates those who engage in it…
This raises a question for me. According to the AP article,
Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.
Miles Park Romney had moved to Mexico in 1884 to escape the US laws prohibiting polygamy, and died there in 1904. His 1897 plural marriage to Emily Eyring Smith likely occurred in Mexico; therefore, US federal law would not have applied. However, Mexico had enacted its own laws against polygamy in 1884, 13 years before Miles Park and Emily were married (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 132 fn#1).
Be that as it may, this 1897 plural marriage was definitely against the stated law of the Church. As Mitt Romney noted, the LDS Church excommunicates those who disobey the Manifesto and engage in polygamy against Church policy. So I wonder — were Mr. Romney’s great-grandfather and his post-Manifesto wife ever excommunicated from the LDS Church?