Sexual Polyandry - Not a Practice of the Church

See the 13:00 video above introducing and addressing the topic of polyandry found in the CES Letter.

CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph Smith and the church practice sexual polyandry where women could cohabitate with multiple husbands?

Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men.


CES Letter, Page 52

The simple answer to the above question is no.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “polyandry” as “the condition or practice of having more than one husband at one time.”[1]

This definition can be confusing when applied to nineteenth century marriages because some civil unions ended without a legal divorce. In many cases, the couple separated and would even remarry without completing divorce paperwork. Stanley B. Kimball wrote:  “Some church leaders at that time considered civil marriage by non-Mormon clergymen to be as unbinding as their baptisms. Some previous marriages… were annulled simply by ignoring them." (Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981, 95.) 

Women  could be permanently separated from their legal husbands but not formally divorced. If they remarried, they would be practicing polyandry from a documentation standpoint, but not practically speaking or sexually.

True polyandry is where a woman has two genuine husbands with whom she experiences conjugal relations. To differentiate this from all other forms of polyandry, the unambiguous term “sexual polyandry” is used. Sexual polyandry is the same as a “plurality of husbands” and proxy husbands.

There is no credible historical evidence that sexual polyandry was practiced by Joseph Smith or any other man in the Church. No woman in Nauvoo considered herself (or was considered by others) to have two genuine husbands.

The CES Letter attempts to exploit the potential confusion between sexual polyandry and women who failed to obtain a civil divorce before being sealed in eternal marriage. It refers to legally married women who were sealed to Joseph and then implies that sexual polyandry occurred.

Joseph Smith taught that marriages for “time and eternity” were part of the “new and everlasting covenant” (D&C 132:4) and that the new and everlasting covenant causes “all old covenants” to be “done away” (D&C 22:1). Therefore, a marriage in the new and everlasting covenant would have caused a civil marriage (the “old marriage covenant”) to have been “done away” creating the equivalence of a Church divorce. From the Church's standpoint, a woman could never have two husbands (one legal and one by a sealing).

Within the new and everlasting covenant of marriage are “eternity only” sealings that are just for the next life. They do not permit sexuality on earth. Evidence indicates that most of Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women were of this type.

Some of the women were married to non-members to whom they could not be sealed. Why the other women chose Joseph Smith over their legal spouse is unclear and puzzling. Lucy Walker:  “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.”[2]

Section 132 contains three references to sexual polyandry (vv. 41, 42, 61-63) and labels them all as "adultery."

Early Church leaders and members condemned sexual polyandry.  

Brigham Young asked in 1852, “What do you think of a woman having more husbands than one?” And then answered, “This is not known to the law.”[3] 

Heber C. Kimball taught,  "There has been a doctrine taught that a man can act as Proxy for another when absent – it has been practiced and it is known -- & its damnable."[4] 

Orson Pratt instructed:  “God has strictly forbidden, in this Bible, plurality of husbands, and proclaimed against it in his law.”[5] 

Belinda Marden Pratt wrote in 1854:  “’Why not a plurality of husbands as well as a plurality of wives?’ To which I reply: 1st God has never commanded or sanctioned a plurality of husbands…”[6] 

On October 8, 1869, Apostle George A. Smith taught that “a plurality of husbands is wrong.”[7]  

Bathsheba Smith, was asked in 1892 if it would “be a violation of the laws of the church for one woman to have two husbands living at the same time…”  She replied:  “I think it would.”[8] 

Later Church authorities denied that polyandry was ever practiced in the Church. First Presidency Counselor Joseph F. Smith wrote in 1889: 

“Polyandry is wrong, physiologically, morally, and from a scriptural point of order.  It is nowhere sanctioned in the Bible, nor by the law of God or nature and has no affinity with ‘Mormon’ plural marriage.”[9] 

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote in 1905: 

“Polygamy, in the sense of plurality of husbands and of wives never was practiced in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah or elsewhere.”[10] 

[1]American Heritage Dictionary, CD-ROM, 1992.

[2] Lucy Walker Kimball, “A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labors of Lucy Walker Kimball Smith,” CHL; quoted in Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience, Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co, 1888, 46.

[3] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:361, August 1, 1852.

[4] Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1893, Salt Lake City: Privately Published [Smith-Pettit Foundation], 2010, 160; see also 157.

[5] Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 18:55-56, July 11, 1875.

[6] Belinda Marden Pratt, “Defense of Polygamy: By a Lady of Utah, in a Letter to Her Sister in New Hampshire,” Millennial Star, 16:471, (July 29, 1854).

[7] George Albert Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.41, George Albert Smith, October 8, 1869. 

[8] Bathsheba Smith, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 347, question 1142.

[9] Joseph F. Smith to Zenos H. Gurley, June 19, 1889, CHL.  Richard E. Turley, Jr. Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, vol. 1, DVD #29.

[10] Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 48.


See:

Joseph Smith and Polyandry

FairMormon: Joseph Smith and Polyandry

Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find? By Brian C. Hales

“The Joseph Smith – Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealings: Polyandry or Polygyny,” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 9, no. 1, Spring 2008, 19-28.

 “Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 38 (Spring 2012) no. 2, pp. 163-228.

Additional Resources:

12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

“Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” LDS.org Essay

“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” LDS.org Essay

“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” LDS.org Essay

Like Two Crazy Aunts in the Attic: Latter-day Saints and Popular Polygamy Stereotypes” (2010 FAIR Conference) by Craig L. Foster

“Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage: D&C 132″ by Jed Woodworth

“Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives after the Martyrdom,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 13, no. 2. Fall 2012, 255-69.

“A Subject That Can Bear Investigation”: Anguish, Faith, and Joseph Smith’s Youngest Plural Wife” by J. Spencer Fluhman

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask)” (2009 FAIR Conference) by Gregory L. Smith

Joseph Smith DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophet’s Genes” (2008 FAIR Conference) by Ugo Perego

A Reconciliation of Polygamy by Valerie Hudson

Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?” (2012 FAIR Conference) by Brian C. Hales

“O that my voice could reach the ears of those uninformed and misinformed” by Suzanne Armitage

“‘Mormon” Women’s Protest: An Appeal for Freedom, Justice and Equal Rights,” The Ladies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints protest against the tyranny and indecency of Federal Officials in Utah, and against their own disfranchisement without cause. Full Account of Proceedings at the Great Mass Meeting, held in the Theatre, SALT LAKE CITY UTAH. Saturday, March 6, 1886

Ask the Apologist: Contradiction between Jacob and DC 132

Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” by Gregory L. Smith

The Fallacy of Fundamentalist Assumptions” (2005 FAIR Conference) by Blake T. Ostler

Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young” (2006 FAIR Conference) by Allen Wyatt

A Response to Grant Palmer’s ‘Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo’” by Brian C. Hales and Gregory L. Smith

Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past” by Craig L. Foster

Hagar in LDS Scripture and Thought” by Andrew C. Smith

Stretching to Find the Negative: Gary Bergera’s Review of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology” byBrian C. Hales  

Does God Have a Wife? –  by Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt

Plural Marriage and the Half-Empty-Glass School of Historiography –  by Allen L. Wyatt

Prologue to the Study of Joseph Smith’s Marital Theology –  by Danel W. Bachman

The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives –  by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Scott H. Faulring

Articles of Faith 3: Craig L. Foster on Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church, Craig L Foster, 0:33:04

Best of Fair 12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask), Dr. Greg Smith, 1:02:38

Articles of Faith 1: Brian C. Hales Interview – Articles of Faith Show, Brian C Hales, 0:25:27

FairMormon Frameworks 4: Brian Hales Polygamy, Brian Hales, 1:08:58

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy, Martin Tanner, 0:19:55

Mormon FAIR-Cast 187: Polygamy Roundtable, Gregory L. Smith, 1:25:20

RiseUp Podcast: Polygamy and Joseph Smith, Dr. Greg L. Smith, 0:21:42

Polygamy and Joseph Smith with Greg Smith

FAIR Examination 9: Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice–Dr. Valerie Hudson, Dr. Valerie Hudson, 1:00:07

Polygamy and its relationship to the LDS Church- Craig Foster

Mormon FAIR-Cast 85: Foundations of fundamentalist polygamy

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy –Dr. Brian Hales– Fair Mormon Podcast

Polygamy as an Abrahamic Sacrifice–Dr. Valerie Hudson– Fair Mormon Podcast

Plural Marriage and Maintaining Faith- Dr. Gregory Smith- Fair Mormon Podcast

The Naturalistic vs. Faithful View of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales

12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy by Brian Hales 

pt 1 “Zina and her Men” 2006 FAIR conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 2 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 3 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 4 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

pt 5 “Zina and her men” 2006 FAIR Conference address by Allen Wyatt

Pt 1, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes” by Ugo Perego

Pt 2, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 3, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 4, “Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 5, “”Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Pt 6, Joseph Smith’s DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophets Genes

Reconciling Belief with Polygamy” by Brian Hales

Testimony of Early Polygamous Wives: Mary Elizabeth Rollins

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Margaret Cooper West

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Elizabeth Whitney

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Phoebe Carter Woodruff

Testimony of Early LDS Polygamous Wives: Vilate Kimball

The Wives of Joseph Smith and Their Testimony- Zina Huntington

The Wives of Joseph Smith and Their Testimony–Lucy Walker

Did Joseph Smith Marry Young Women? Fair Mormon Answers

LDS and Popular Polygamy Stereotypes by Craig Foster

Are Mormons Polygamists

Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital Status of Zina Huntington

Joseph Smith’s DNA revealed: New Clues to the Prophet’s Genes” by Dr. Ugo Perego

Controversies of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy” by Brian Hales

Joseph Smith DNA Revealed: New Clues from the Prophet’s Genes

A Refutation of Grant Palmer’s Treatment of Sexual Allegations Against Joseph Smith” by Brian Hales