Archive for category Polygamy

Mitt Romney Loves Everything; Trees, Lakes, Cars and Money

Imagine the material yet to come.

Ann Romney loves everything too.

“I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.” – Ann Romney, Apr 23, 2012


Rehearsing Mormonism’s Persecution Narrative (Further Thoughts on Religious freedom)

On cue and without any sense of irony, Joe Cannon in this morning’d D-News published the editorial Mormons are entitled to defend their freedom of religion. The editorial begins with a brief paragraph describing Dallin Oaks’ speech on religious freedom then offered a swipe at critics of the speech:
Read the rest of this entry »


Introducing “Soulmates,” A Program in Expanded Chastity

What I can’t understand is why Republicans can’t see it, the answer to all their problems, the answer that God has been holding out to them on a platter and fairly shoving up their noses, those long and elevated noses, since the 1850s. Why let a handsome, Bible-quoting, southern gentleman like Mark Sanford, who clearly has a knack with female voters and who apparently has lingual talents no one knew about, go down in flames? Why let a little problem like an errant, headstrong zipper in search of a soulmate ruin a stellar career? Why let an obsessive compulsion for crossing the line prevent God’s anointed from running the country?

Such a waste of talent in a waste of shame! Such a waste because so unnecessary when there is a way out. As Sanford himself says, King David shows the way. His zipper went wandering and he wasn’t forced to resign (it’s good to be the king). Not to quibble, but I think the figure Mark really should consider is the less tragic but more satisfied Solomon. There’s far more extensive precedent for crossing the line in his case, without the unfortunate adultery and murder that make David such a clay-footed paragon. Satisfying if not inspiring, a biblical role model is a biblical role model. So here we have it at last: state-approved, divinely sanctioned marriage between one man and one thousand women.

Which brings me to my good, if more modest, news from the New Israel. Well-placed sources inside LDS church headquarters tell me that a big headliner is in the works:

“LDS Church Brings Back ‘The Principle’ to Help Party”

To clarify, the party in question is a noun not a verb, and the noun refers not to Bacchanalia along the lines of Spring Break or Mormon General Conference but to that bastion of moral and political solemnity, Hizbullah, or the Party of God, the party of Dick Cheney, who, like Yahweh, “brings his own cloud of darkness with him” and of Mark Sanford, who wishes he could be caught up in such a cloud. The Principle in question is of course plural marriage, the biblically-sanctioned, Mormon-refined get out of jail card for sons of God, who, in Sanford’s immortal words, are driven by forbidden, tragic love to cross the lines over and over again with the daughters of men. This is the program God has instituted for those spiritually gifted but historically challenged leaders for whom crossing the Rubicon is a regular form of recreation. This is the program for those aging Peter Pans, who, while nightly crossing their Rubicons and thinking all the while about Zeno’s paradox, keep asking their bedmates, “Are we there yet.” This is the program for those defenders of family values who are constantly struggling to fall in love with the wife of their bosom and for whom the marriage of one man to one woman is “the larger walk of faith,” the straight and narrow way more commonly known as “walking the plank” or “the longest mile.” In short, this is the answer for God’s Erect whose penises go walkabout in the bush without warning, or, in the again immortal words of Mark Sanford, go “hiking in Appalachia.”

Not untypically, the LDS Church has once again been keeping its light under a bushel. Here, right under the august noses of the Righteous Wing, is salvation, family-oriented and biblically-approved. In the words of the Mormon hymn:

Soulmates can be together forever
In Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own families,
And the Lord has showed me how I can.
The Lord has showed me how I can.

It’s back to the future, boys and girls. The benefits for Hizbullah are clear. But, more importantly, this is the chance for Mormons to show their worth, to demonstrate, after decades of unproductive donations and support, why Hizbullah needs them, why at last, in the Fulness of Time, Mormons and the Born Again are destined to be soulmates. Let the “hiking” begin!


“For the Mormons to grandstand on marriage is just nuts”

With their support for Proposition 8 the Mormons have more or less done what someone might do who — in an incredibly dumb moment — decides to call up the local IRS office and start asking the kind of questions that inevitably leads to getting audited.

Frank Schaeffer has an opinion piece on Huffington Post entitled Perspectives on Marriage: Score 1 For Gay America — 0 To The Mormons. I think it would help for Mormons to read this article–with an open mind–just for the purpose of understanding how the rest of the world views them.

I happen to have just been thinking about how Mormons make a big deal about celebrity Mormons (athletes, movie stars, professional singers, etc.), and how they probably do that because it makes them feel more normal and mainstream. But it’s delusional. As Frank says,

It seems that the Mormons have begun to believe their own propaganda when it comes to seeing themselves as “just another” evangelical group. They aren’t.

The evangelicals may be plenty crazy, as they have manifested themselves to be through the late great Religious Right (that is now crashing in flames following the Obama victory), but the Mormons are exponentially crazier when it comes to marriage, and gender roles. [snip]

New religions, where their founders are not shrouded by the merciful mists of time — for instance L. Ron Hubbard of the Scientologists or Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons — seem stranger than the founders of older religions. Maybe that’s unfair, but there it is. That is because the newcomers lived recently enough so that truth claims and character are easier to check out.

Here is just two of many quaint bits of Mormon “teaching” ( this first on race is no longer the official position of the church, but still…)

“And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane [i.e black people] the only way he could get rid of it or have salvation would be to come forward & have his head cut off & spill his blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children.”

(Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1852, Brigham Young’s address before the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah upon slavery)

“Nearly all the great discoveries of man in the last half century have, in one way or another, either directly or indirectly, contributed to prove Joseph Smith to be a Prophet… I know that he said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to be a greater age than we do, that they lived generally to near the age of 1000 years. He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style. In my Patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants of the sea — to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.”

(Oliver B. Huntington, Young Woman’s Journal, Vol. 3, p. 263-264)

So, okay, enough already of the “seed of Cain,” moon men, on to marriage, California’s Proposition 8 and the Mormons…

As most in this community know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of crazy Mormon quotes. But Frank’s entire piece is a pretty interesting read as he quotes a church histories who tallies up Joseph Smith’s wives by age and shows that “The teenage representation is the largest, though the twenty-year and thirty-year groups are comparable, which contradicts the Mormon folk-wisdom that sees the beginnings of polygamy was an attempt to care for older, unattached women. These data suggest that sexual attraction was an important part of the motivation for Smith’s polygamy.”

. . . for the Mormons to grandstand on marriage is just nuts, given their history and beliefs.

I don’t care one way or the other whether Mormons ever become mainstream. But I do care when they meddle in the rights of others in order to promote their own agenda. I think this time the widespread attention to Prop. 8 will be a net negative for the church’s purposes. And Mormons will eventually come to understand that, and being the survivors they are, will make adjustments.

, ,


The Patriarchal Grip of Mormon Marriage

Troy Williams has encapsulated what will no doubt be the LDS Church’s last stand on the Same-Sex Marriage debate in California.

It’s time to call out the Mormon temple marriage for what it really is; the ritualistic humiliation of women. It is a ceremony we queers would never want to emulate.

Having been born LDS (and believe me, that was definitely not a choice) I was indoctrinated my entire life to be morally “worthy” so I could enter the temple. Marriage in the temple is the ultimate goal for all Latter-day Saints.

Troy IS well-qualified to say the following.

The Church is in no position of moral superiority to dictate what is “sacred”. Their pro-family rhetoric should be laughed out of the public sphere. What Mormons call “traditional marriage” I call patriarchal submission. The temple ceremony is an insult to all women. I know many LDS wives will disagree. They will argue passionately that they feel liberated in their temple marriages. But underneath their testimony and tears, they each know they have been ritualistically humiliated in their wedding ceremony. They made their husbands their god. On some deep psychological level, this shadows every aspect of their relationship. No wonder Mormon women abuse their Prozac.

I must admit, I have heard this consistently from women, but only from a safe distance from the pall.

Go read the whole article and leave Troy some comments.

, ,


Texas’ Actions Not An Infringement on Religious Freedom

This morning’s Trib contained an op-ed from Maggie Jessop, that began with the not so provocative opening line:

So, you want to hear from the FLDS women, huh? OK, you asked for it.

Normally, “You asked for it” is followed by a good rant. Not in this case. The op-ed itself is semi-coherent – a saccharine paean to applehood and motherpie. FWIW, it’s not worth much. Ms. Jessop’s arguments rests on her status as a mother (which I’ll talk about in a moment) and her apparent lack of criminal convictions (which only means she hasn’t been caught before). It would be a laughable bit of writing if it weren’t obvious she is deadly serious and means every word she’s written. Read the rest of this entry »


The Texas Raids: The Alamo Defenders Circled Around Sara, Shooting at a Metaphor. Speech Given Before the Utah State Bar, Continuing Legal Education, at the Downtown Marriott Hotel, Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Let me simply say that we are now exactly in a perfect storm, where United States v. Reynolds meet Loving v. Virginia meet Lawrence v. Texas meet “Sarah” v. …well, we’re not quite sure who. Sarah v. Texas? Sarah v. United States? If Lawrence is to gay and lesbian brothers and sisters; and to polygamists, what Brown v. the Board was to people of color and ethnicity, as I believe it to be, this indeed is a time of legal revolution. Not to put too fine a point on it, as Dickens would say in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the eternal feeding trough for lawyers through generations, gays and polygamists are in bed together. Along with those of us who are serial monogamists or anyone like me, and Douglas and Black, who don’t want the state, the police, under the marital or any conjugal bed.

Please colleagues, don’t forget procedural due process. I stated this circumstance as best I could, in much better days, in the Reynolds Lecture, Ends and Means in Conflict. This was published in several law reviews and religious journals, circa 1987. Our fellow citizens hate us for these laws that seem to them to be trivia: protecting a murderer by having taxpayers pay the fees of defense counsel. And protecting whatever is left of the Fourth Amendment, in this manic lawlessness of this administration, and their lackeys on the bench.

If Texas police can invade an FLDS Temple, have absolutely no doubt that they can do the same thing in Salt Lake City. Or New York. Or Los Angeles. Any of you who give a tinker’s damn about your own synagogue, mosque, temple, chapel, parish or ward, take notice. As W.H. Auden warned in the opening days of World War Two, writing as I recall in New York as Hitler’s armies swept into Poland, you’re next. If you don’t protest when the state comes for the Roman Catholics. And you don’t care much for Protestants. And you’re really not interested in the aristocracy in the military. And you never liked big industrialists either, then don’t be shocked as the shock troops knock on your door. We know this is next. It always has been. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing many times and still you expect a different result.

St. Thomas More lost his head. (As Rudyard Kipling, who died as I was born, noted, if you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, you’ll be taller than they are.) He had been sheriff, like our Texas brother; but More was sheriff of London and later Lord Chancellor, circa. fifteenth and sixteenth century, when Cardinal Woolsey introduced him, fatefully and fatally to Henry VIII. A young rogue, a varlet, an opportunist, was seeking position with St. Thomas More. More, of course, was Roman Catholic and remained so, in all faith and fervor, to the end. He finished the race, as St. Paul so often analogized to the Olympics. Roper, a good man and close to More, told him that he should do for the royal toad or he would surely have More’s head. St. Thomas said that no harm had yet been done. Thomas didn’t believe in pre-emptive war. More said that procedural law, like large oaks, peopled Great Britain, Ireland and Wales from stem to stern. “Would you have me tear asunder the great forests of procedural protections?” “Yes, I would tear down every tree in England to get” the toad. ” Then where would you be, Roper, when the winds roar, where would you hide?” Well, this was St. Thomas More.

A warning about metaphors. We kill each other for and by metaphors. We launch Crusades with entire civilizations in murderous self-slaughter. We excommunicate over a creed that has god in a bottle. From the tenth through the next several centuries, Crusaders slaughtered Roman and Greek, Catholic and Orthodox. And millions died, between civil war in Christianity and holy war (what a oxymoron) between Muslim and Christian. What a waste. Our local version was called the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

So the Judge in Texas says “Sarah” is a metaphor, even though she likely doesn’t exist. Good God, have we all gone nuts? Is it something in the Water in Texas? We have Bush in the White House and a very able woman trying her best in a very difficult case. But Due Process of Law hasn’t been repealed by this administration, just ignored. I hope for the resurrection: the resurrection of the Fourth Amendment searches and seizures protections. In the First Amendment and freedom of speech, including religious speech–like prayer anywhere and anytime we wish and without guards of any faith monitoring them, to see if we lie to God. I believe in freedom of religion. Don’t assume we are all brain dead, judiciary, telling us this “isn’t about religion.” Again, it must be the alkali in the Texas water. I truly pity this able judge in this Solomon-like cutting of the babies in half. And then quartering them, cutting them off from their mothers, not to mention their fathers. Nursing mothers denied their babies. This sounds to me like the slaughtering of the innocents. And of course I recognize that the innocents are being terribly hurt and surely permanently damaged by people on both sides of this slaughter.

I said “both sides” of this slaughter of the innocents. I misspeak. We must remember, daily and then again, that there are as many sides of this centuries-old story as there are people. The murderous slaughter of the truth by CNN and Fox, in their 24/7 repetition of their mangled one-dimensional bit of truth with a thousand parts error, mirror their lethal progenitor, in one and only one respect. Joseph Goebbels, head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment in Germany in the thirties and forties of the twentieth century, gave us the heart of the problem. Tell a lie often enough, long enough, and everyone, finally, accepts it as true. BY NO MEANS AM I EQUATING THIS STORY, THIS HUGE TRAGEDY, AS IF THIS NATION WAS ANALOGOUS TO NAZI GERMANY. I know as I state this disclaimer, that I will face a pasting in letters to the editor, not a few from the Bar. Nevertheless, the principle and the principle only, of telling a lie until it is the accepted truth lies at the heart of advertising and the political process that this year, is nastier than I have ever seen, in life and in history. In canon law and scriptural history leaders were chosen by casting lots. How much better than this utter debasement of American democracy.

We must realize that there are several major groups of Mormon polygamists, each hugely different from each other. All are based, really, upon a notion that surely possess a huge truth. Hundreds of millions of people on every continent practice polygamy. And monogamy and every variant and position known to humankind. Criminal law will never change this.

BUT criminal law can do what I believe every member of this panel believes, and insists: there must not be physical or mental abuse of anybody, particularly the innocents, our own children. The abuses of patriarchy or for that matter, matriarchy, must cease now. Torture is forbidden by what was just said and must be said and said again. And this law must be enforced.
At the same time, we all know that there will be offenses of the law, in civil and religious law, in every system known to humankind. The central issue here, of course, is whether any particular system fosters criminal conduct, offense, especially upon children, women and girls, and young men.

This is the crux of the matter. I don’t know the answer. But I strongly suspect that isolation fosters incest. The most dangerous kinds, because it fosters every other kind, are the intellectual and spiritual incest that warps the minds and the souls of those who think they hear the voice of God in the desert and then act when they hear only their own sick minds. But here, too, we must be careful. For all the millennia of human experience, the human has sought God in the Desert. The numinosity of the burning bush.

Paul, some historians tell us, was manic. He fell off his ass and said he saw god. In another of his epistles, he says he only heard god, on the way to Damascus to persecute another hated sect. This story of Israel in the desert attempting to find or build or find Zion, or Shangri-La, echo down throughout time. But for the Mormons, Zion was a tangible sensuous place to be made in the here and now. Don’t wait for Enoch or angels, build Zion where we stand. Mormons of the nineteenth century failed in their dream. They were simply swallowed up. Daniel Boorstin, one of America’s great historians, from the University of Chicago and a graduate in law, wrote words that hit this then young Mormon bishop, on leave in New York and Geneva with the United Nations, like a punch in the belly. He said how different the story of New England, or America, would be if the Puritans had been located in some American Swiss-like city, in a valley encircled with American Alps. He said that the oceans opened Puritan minds and made them into Yankee traders, with each new idea from Europe and Asia and Africa opening our minds and forming our souls . If they had been in an American Geneva, where I served long ago, how different, how isolated and how insulated and how narrow our minds. This is the setting, unless we are very careful and very respectful of our own tendency toward insanity rather than spirituality in God’s open spaces of the American West.

On a completely different scale I admit, remember the Japanese Relocation Cases, that blighted our human rights during the last just war, perhaps, World War Two. Tens of thousands of Japanese Americans, innocent all (no Japanese American was ever convicted of any crime against her country in World War Two. No national ethnic group can match this. Several German Americans spied. Not so the Japanese. ) Now, I know the limited meaning of this comparison: crimes have been committed by polygamists, not to mention monogamists. But the land at issue, seized and dealt with by courts, is enormously valuable. Just how far will we go to eliminate communal ownership of land and wealth and the sources of production and supply, to protect our perfect version of selfless capitalism?

And now back to the beginning. Each polygamous person and every sect in the world, monogamous and polygamous, is marvelously different. Like everyone in the world. At least, stereotypes and stigmas are not ever to be taken literally. At worst they play a fundamental role in every holocaust ever endured. Our commonality as human beings is a huge truth. Parallel and always necessary in this life is the beauty of the utter originality of every human being and our utterly subjective perception of truths, however objective or subjective they may be. Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his own person the truth of what I’ve so inadequately tried to explain, was a gay man in the most austere and monolithic religious Roman Catholic order in nineteenth century England, a Jesuit. He was quite possibly the greatest English writer who ever lived, except Shakespeare and the translators of the King James Bible. In Pied Beauty, he said:

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh fire-coal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings,
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise Him.

Here is Brigham Young’s, the theocrat of all would-be kings, we’re told, own two-volume set of Blackstone’s Commentaries of the Laws of England: in four books; with An Analysis of the work. By Sir William Blackstone, Knt. one of the justices of the court of common pleas. In Two Volumes. From the nineteenth London Edition. With a LIFE OF THE AUTHOR. AND NOTES: CHRISTIAN, CHITTY, LEE, HOVENDEN, AND RYLAND: AND ALSO REFERENCES TO AMERICAN CASES, BY A MEMBER OF THE NEW YORK BAR.” Published in New York. Year? Why 1847. Year One for Utah’s Mormons. Taken from tithing in kind, from the Presiding Bishop’s Storehouse, in Utah’s own Christian Socialist system. Brigham put in a Mormon scrip to honestly buy these volumes, for his own reading, and housed until his death in his office, obviously well read. Blackstone’s Commentaries were very probably the only books, other than the King James Bible, had by most homes of the West. And for that matter, until very late in the day, in most homes in America most surely, Blackstone contributed more than all but a handful of people, living or dead, to the democracy, and the rule of law, in our Republic. I was given these volumes personally, by the last granddaughter of Brother Brigham. So much for stereotypes.

I propose in conclusion that instead of seizing DNA we provide something that will really work. An amnesty open to all polygamists who are not guilty of a very specific non-metaphorical crimes: rape, torture, child-and spouse abuse, fraud other than that we force upon a people denied the protection of due process of law honestly to buy or make their bread for over two hundred years and counting. In all reality our polygamous sisters and brothers are immigrants, many of whom wish to come home. Why can’t we do for these our fellow citizens what President Bush and John McCain, for a moment at least, until shot down by their own Party, proposed? So courageously and honestly? The clock and the law would start now. With the last and by far the largest and worst-led polygamist group, the Jeff’s group, with Warren Jeffs now in jail? I believe all polygamist groups of Mormon descent, “get it.” I have met personally, in my home or theirs, with all polygamist leaders of Mormon descent. Times have changed. Come home. To your churches, your cities, your government, your fellow-citizens.

The criminal law is far too brutal to bring this change. St. Paul knew the limits of the law. So does every lawyer and every criminal here, or in jail. Only the civilizing communion of the secular (thank God) polis; and the parish,the temple, the mosque and the synagogue, can democratize us all. In the secular city, thank God and Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson, and Abigail and John Adams, of the Village Square.

The Mormon Zion, like all that have gone before and will yet be birthed, cannot be made with our hands. We must always try and we will always fall short. Finally, with Joseph and Brigham, and St. Paul and St. Augustine; with the Dalai Lama and Sally Hemings and Fawn McKay Brodie and Thomas Jefferson, we wait for better times. My grandfathers, Joseph Smith by temple sealing, Brigham Young and my grandmother, Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young by my particular DNA, as if that mattered, thought, like St. Paul in First Thessalonians, that the Second Coming would surely be in their lifetime.

It would seem that we must wait for angels, after all.

God bless us, every one.

Edwin Brown Firmage bio, website
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. A.

Further reading;

Firmage – The Pox Letters


Glen’s Pick

A great article over at Orcinus.


Could polygamy be moral

By way of full disclosure:

I am a descendant of James Stephens Brown , Mormon pioneer and polygamist (not to be confused with his uncle, Captain James S. Brown of the Mormon Battalion, though both served in the Mormon Battalion). His life’s story was published by the Deseret News, as The Life of Pioneer after his death. When his grandson Hugh B. Brown became a member of the Mormon Church’s highest levels of leadership, it was republished as Giant of the Lord (ack, I know!). I’ve seen various counts for his wives (most say he had four, but I’ve also heard family members claim had seven or eight wives). His wife Eliza Lester gave birth to Elando Lester Brown, who married Mary McIlveen who gave birth to Edwin Brown, my grandfather, in 1910 in Salt Lake City.

When I talk about polygamy, I am talking about my ancestors, my family. I would not be here today had James Stephens Brown not been a randy old goat who liked to bed younger women and managed to find a church that provided him with theological cover for his desires. That’s the cynic’s version. The faithful version says that he was inspired by his faith to take multiple wives, that his obedience to God motivated his actions. When his life’s story was written, it was intended to inspire other people in their Mormon faith.

Mormon polygamy, as Jon Krakauer chronicled in Under the Banner of Heaven, was controversial from the start. It’s difficult not to think that Joseph Smith invented polygamy for his own purposes and that God had precious little to do with it. From the start, Emma Smith opposed it and she was, aparently, not shy about expressing her opinions to her husband and almost anyone who would listen. When the Mormons came west, a group stayed behind to form the RLDS church, now known as the Community of Christ. As I understand it, this group always rejected the practice of polygamy. Once in Utah, Mormons engaged in polygamy until the Mormon church was forced by Federal Government to abandon the practice – which coincided with a terribly, terribly convenient revelation. (Allowing African American men to hold the priesthood has always struck me as a similarly convenient revelation.)
Again, that is the cynic’s interpretation of events; a less cyncial person sees the workings of God in these events. Certainly had the Mormon church not abandoned polygamy, it would not have achieved the success it has today.
Read the rest of this entry »


The Growth of Human Rights: The Skunk at the Garden Party

The debacle of the clash of civilizations in the Texas raids upon the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints continues past the point of severe justice. Whatever Samuel Huntington thinks, no one wins such wars.

Savagery exists now, played out with the goading of the news media, in 24/7 mode, driven to make news of the most lurid kind, pouring blood into the water. CNN outdoes Fox in idiocy and sheer fabrication. Their local authority here, the most savage of all, did not learn his facts nor his law in my class in constitutional law, nor from the table of his loving mother and father, my dear friends. Watch out, national talking heads, Look over your shoulder. He has a lean and hungry look.

I’ve lived through seven decades of this drama, and written about the story of polygamy since its Mormon expression. I say “Mormon” expression, because hundreds of millions of people in almost every country and culture on earth practice polygamy, just as huge numbers practice, or at least preach, monogamy. I know and have lived through almost half of the Mormon story. Realizing that Mormons didn’t invent polygamy seems to be an understanding that none of the electronic media, and those who unfortunately rely upon such media for their information, find beyond their reach. My conclusions, for what they’re worth, from two hundred years of the Mormon experience, and my work in most countries of the world, from Tibet and India, China, almost all of Europe and the United Nations, in New York and Geneva and the White House:

First, “family” is an ever-defining fluid thing. Blood? Adoption? Choice? In-law or outlaw? I remember two months in Rome with a Franciscan sister, Rosemary Lynch, Franciscan to the core, still alive in her ninety-second year and, with the Death of my dear friend, Sister Mary Luke Tobin, at ninety-eight years, of the Sisters of Loretto, the only American order of women Religous without European antecedents, for most of a century headed by Luke, and the only woman with speaking rights at Vatican Two (four women there, to balance off 1800 men), arguably the most famous revered and profoundly loved living woman in Christianity. Luke and Rose and I had met as we all battled the existence and the basing of the MX Missile in the Great Basin of the American West. I was giving a series of lectures, several a week, to all the Congregations of Women and Men Religious, headquartered in Rome. I was a year or two away from a divorce that would shatter me after thirty-three years and eight children. Blessedly ignorant of what was just around the corner, I asked Rosie if she ever missed having a family, a husband, children. She treated my naive Mormon question with all the thoughtfulness that is so lacking in today’s national dialogue on the same question. She said, “dear Ed, I have children. Thousands of them. I have biological brothers and sisters, and hundreds of brothers and sisters of the faith, and of scores of other faiths, particularly in the Muslim world, as my father Francis Assisi was especially concerned about his Muslim sisters and brothers, and echoes of Francis still resonate within the Muslim community.”

Rosie’s sister Franciscan for decades, Klaryta, was born of Polish parents, one tortured and murdered by the Germans and one by the Russians as World War Two reached its savage end, after 50,000,000 people had be slaughtered in another clash of civilizations, stretching that word past civilized meaning. Klaryta works mainly with German and Russian immigrants in her ministry, along with many thousands, now, of immigrants here, with or without papers.

As the present drama of FLDS polygamists plays itself out to its bitter end, probably decades from now, if measured by the damage already done to these women, children, men, of all ages, and after growing in my own experience of “family” these past three decades, I see violence as evil and the law, for all but the most limited and heinous of crimes, the least worst alternative. The American culture is reaching out, now, to immigrants of all sorts. This is not without pain and loss. But the gains are enormously greater. These Mormon Fundamentalists should be seen as immigrants, really. ( More on this later in this piece.)

In this country right now, if we were facing abuses in Muslim polygamy, even after 9/11, we would be giving far far greater care to the human rights, the constitutional rights, the international legal human rights, of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Can’t we see these Mormon Christian people in Texas, Utah, and Arizona as similarly situated and protected? Mormons didn’t invent this polygamous system. Think about it, talking heads of CNN. Place this wherever in the world. Hugely more compassion and, just perhaps, a bit more factual reporting would be done. Not just never-ending vitriol. Have we no shame?

When my grandmother, Zina Diantha Huntington Smith Young, and her Husband, Brigham Young, came to this valley of the Great Basin, Brigham claimed an area slightly larger than the rest of the United States. Native Americans were here, as were many of Spanish and Mexican descent. When Zina crossed the Mississippi, frozen but not quite, wagons fell into the freezing water. Zina wrote in her diary of seeing their Nauvoo Temple desecrated and burned by the mobs. Brigham had gone ahead with a few of the men, toward their Zion, the Great Basin of the West. Babies were born and died. They had been forced by murder and rapine into the wilds. When they left Nauvoo, slightly larger than Chicago at the time, they were headed for Mexico and Texas. A war of unmitigated aggression by the United States began against Mexico, as the Mormons were on the march. Brigham was asked to enlist Mormon young men to go to war. The Mormon Legion completed the longest forced march of the American infantry, in response, ending in California, whether owned by Mexico, the United States, Britain, Russia, or Native America. It was all fluid for many decades. Thus the United States seized over one-third of Mexico. And now we are enraged when thousands of Mexicans remained in what was their land, and millions return to a land by all justice they still own.

Zina married Joseph Smith when she was twenty. She loved him very much. She shared his bed in this “spiritual marriage.” So did Emma, but not at the same time. When Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob, Zina, then twenty-three, married my great-great grandfather, Brigham Young. From that union I came to be. I remember going with another Zina, my grandmother and the wife of Hugh B. Brown, First Counselor of the Mormon Church in an earlier time, to see “aunt” so and so, many such, all surviving wives of polygamist men long dead.

In every century before the twentieth, in every land in the world, marriage in the teens existed. John Adams had to threaten his son, John Quincy Adams, with a caning and worse if he did not stop seeing the woman, or girl, his loved, then fifteen.

The Fundamentalist Mormons of four or five clans have been frozen in time, to some extent, by being marginalized, like gays, or at an earlier time, marriage between different racial or ethnic groups, sent into the badlands: geographically, intellectually, socially, politically, and by the hardness of our hearts and the vacuity, the stupidity of our brains. I have known the leadership of all of these groups and I have enjoyed their company in my home and at their table, for seventy years. I have taught many polygamous young women in my forty years teaching constitutional and international law. Many have visited my home and told me why they, as women, favored the polygamous life. Most wanted children, and obviously, and all wanted a career outside the home. Their sister wives, by tending the children, made this possible. I have not met one woman in sixty years of more or less adult life who wanted divorce, or a monogamous life. Obviously some did, but I never met them, and I’ve met hundreds of polygamous women. For whatever reason, in the study of law, in my own experience, my students have almost all been women. So much for stereotypes.

From all that I’ve seen, written, and read of polygamy in the nineteenth century, the system was at least as much matriarchal as patriarchal. Zina ran the home, the farm, raised the children, and presided in most of the healing, today what we would call “priesthood,” since Mormon women then, and now, believe they hold the same through Temple endowment. ( Yes, just like the one raided and pillaged in the name of Texas law. If Texas can do that to Fundamentalist Mormons, when will it be your turn? In your sacred house? church, temple, mosque, or the temple of your home and your body?) Brigham was left to decide upon the foreign policy between Zion, in his Great Basin Kingdom, and Spain, Mexico, Canada, Native America, and yes, the United States, smaller but more heavily populated. So much for polygamy as a device for geometric Mormon catch-up. Even when Mormon evangelical preachers recieved tens of thousands of converts, with tens of thousands of Mormons in Great Britain and Canada; and all would come to Zion at Brigham’s call, more Mormons lived in Canada and England by far than resided in the United States, and though many thousands of emigrant saints marched on foot, in wagons, on oxen and horseback, pulling handcarts whose ruts still remain in the Momon story dug deep into the land of the West Brigham lost, by a nose.

I beieve, strongly believe, that all the leadership of the few Mormon fundamentalist groups now understand that underage marriage is out. Their own precepts forbid abuse, torture, and fraud. Of course all this occurs. But their own legislation forbids all such. The law, with its complete lack of the capacity for subtlety, for fine-tuning, is no place for massive sweeps of thousands of people, hugely most having committed no crime. If this were any of the other candidates for the honor of being skunks at the garden party, there would be national outrage over this criminal misuse of the criminal law. Now, Mormon men and women: lead. Really lead, and in the right direction. Your concept of Zion is flawed. Preserve the parts most holy. This, of course, was the chief givt of St. Paul to the Saints of his time. How could he hold onto the central holiness of the Lord, and still preach a gospel that spoke also to the gentile world?

Leaders in every century face this awful delimma. For the Christian, the model is always taught by St. Paul. It would surely seem to me that such centrality of belief is certainly not found in marriage to underage women or girls. Or young men. Eighteen is still too young, in my book. Consent demands enough years to have real meaning. Mature leaders, men and women, suck it up and follow the myth of Arthur, in Camelot, his Zion. When Arthur learned of Gwenievere and Lancelot, he could have had them killed, but at the cost of Camelot. He said: “This is a time when violence is not strength. And compassion is not weakness. And we shall live through this, together. May God have mercy on us all.” Thus the myth survived. As St. Paul told the faithful in Jerusalem, just before its destruction by the Roman General, Titus, in 70 A.D.: “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.'”(Heb. 13-14) All people of the Book, in fact every religious group of which I am aware, including the Tibetan Buddhists with whom I work frequently with His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, in exile in Dharamsala, India, must balance his desire to return to Tibet, over against his exile in India. His heart has broken .Hence his compassion. The story of exile and return, the holy city and the diaspora, plays out in every age and in every community. Brigham, like many thousands of millenarians through time, thought their diaspora would end early in his lifetime. With St. Paul in First Thessalonians, he had to revise and provide for the next generation.

I don’t doubt the Texas ‘judge’s kindly intent. Nor the sadness and the professional care of the police, the Texas Rangers, and surely not the loving kindness of Baptist mothers and fathers who have stepped in to help, as saviors. But kindly intended but ill-informed people can produce havoc and death. Hence, the Buddhist admonition that “if you see the Buddha on he way, kill him.” (Please, my Fundamentalist friends, continue to maintain the moral high ground of non-violence. This buddhist koan is not meant to be taken with fundamtalist literality.) I have very little hope that the sterility of the capacity of the state to match the loving kindness of these children’s real mothers and fathers, sister-wives and all. I’ve lived in this culture. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of diaries of polygamous women and men. They were no more perfect than am I, or anyone else in the human story. But blood and loving care from sister wives and husands will continue to nurture children far better than Family Service for all but a tiny few. And foster homes are even more seductive in that they may in fact be better than state offices, but that is dying from faint praise.

The Jeffs group’s few thousands are, of course, the last to get it. The last to understand, fully, the change in national acceptance of teen-age marriage, as girls and boys become, unevenly, women and men. This is so because they have been the most persecuted and, by choice or force, those who have found themselves in the badlands of the American West, or for that matter, in Mexico and Canada, where my mother Mary, was birthed by a Zina with another Zina as mid-wife. This was in Cardston, a polygamous community in Alberta Province, though my grandparents, and of course my parents, were monogamous.

Whether or not polygamy was “inspired below a man’s belt,” as my grandfather Brown said to me, as I recorded his lfe, or god-or-satan-sent, really doesn’t matter, now. If indeed polygamy, the Mormon version, was such a mistake, then the Latter-day Saints don’t need another mistake for the next millenia, at least, to render them forever a sect in the eyes of others, really doesn’t matter, either. For here it is. The real question is what do we do about it in this time and this place.

The Texas disaster was the perfect storm. It would have happened, tragically, some place, some time soon. I have no doubt, now, that every fundamentalist polygamous sect of Mormon descent now understands the rules and the consequences of violating them. From this point on, as long as this matter runs its course in the criminal legal system, the only thing that will be accomplished is to punish, likely forever, every person touched by this tragedy. And believing in Karma as I do, I believe savage hurt will come to all who touch this issue with hatred. We batter each other by metaphors. We go to war for metaphors. We launch crusades with metaphors and myth. We have a Mormon Mountain Meadows Massacre, of over one hundred and twenty people. Or on the grand scale, we launch holy wars of five hundred years of Christian slaughter of each other, Roman v. Greek, and huge numbers of Moslems, slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands in the name of metaphor.

And now the Texas judge tells me that “Sarah” is a metaphor? What a ghastly admission of the absolute failure of the Texas system of justice. Is “Texas Justice” to justice, what “military music” is to music? Or for that matter, what “military justice” in this time of a Texan in the White House, is to lady justice? Blind she may be. But she isn’t heartless or brain-dead.

Now is the time for education. By the best the media, as our bully-pulpit for educating us all; by people, our citizens who don’t need lawyers or judges to tell them what their hearts already know. This is not justice. It is the current skunk at the garden party providing us with the test, the very creation of our human rights, the role skunks at the garden party always play. Mormons, Catholics, people of color, immigrants, Muslims. We all get our turn. That is the meaning of karma. Thank God for the skunks at the garden party. How we respond to such people at once creates and defines human rights.

Rulon Jeffs, the father of Warren Jeffs, was my uncle by marriage, and came to be the prophet leader of his people, the largest polygamous sect to separate from the Mormons when they abandoned the practice. Uncle Rulon married my favorite aunt, aunt Zola, my mother Mary’s sister and daughter of Hugh B. and Zina Card (Cardston…back to polygamy)Young Brown. When Rulon decided to follow his father into polygamy, grandfather Hugh Brown took aunt Zola by the hand, just as did John Adams to his son John Quincy when he wanted the hand of a fifteen year-old girl, and accomplished their divorce. But I grew up loving and admiring Uncle Rulon. I asked him to review my chapters on polygamy, in my book, Zion in the Courts: a Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he kindly did. We met in Chuck-a-Rama, not for the food, but as a way of hiding in plain sight. Of course, many scholars, in and out of Mormon culture, also vetted this volume, including my orthodox Mormon former student and now law professor, with an endowed chair, the only endowed chair, in that Roman Catholic university, Collin Mangrum. I spoke with many people of all of the polygamous groups in the American West. Rulon, a tall patriarch of the old school, lived in body and in office too long. He became senile at the end time, and huge mistakes occurred. Now, those chickens have come home to roost. Truly I pray that such energy can run its course with as little damage as possible. That prayer is doomed to fail, I believe.

Texas, Utah, polygamy, and gay rights, are entertwined inexorably. We return to my question to Sister Rosemary Lynch, in Rome. What is family? A group of men and women Religious? Gays? Polygamists, Mormon or by the millions, otherwise? Serial monogamists? ” Spiritual”polygamists who don’t polyg? Or monogamists, perhaps in the Senate or the White House, who don’t monog? God only knows, and she seems silent at this moment.

Four cases, four of several hundred, come to mind. In Loving v. Virginia, so aptly named, people loved and married, in violation of miscegination laws forbidding inter-racial or inter-ethnic marriage. The Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s laws and similar laws in every state in this nation. Before that, as a young man, before Brown v., the Board, I remember well when Ralph Bunche, of the United Nations, and Nobel Laureate, was denied a room at the Hotel Utah, which stately old Hotel now houses the overflow of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ bureaucracy, then and now the owner of Hotel Utah . Lawrence v. Texas is a harbinger, I hope and believe, in the movement toward marriage or civil union between gays and lesbians. Lawrence v. Texas is for gays, and for us all, what Brown v. the Board was to people of color, the flagship of all the human rights flotilla in the United States from the twentieth century, to now: after race, ethnicity; after ethnicity, gender; after gender, sexuality, alienage, and so on. Now, citizens, Loving meets Lawrence meets the U.S. v. Reynolds, the case forbidding Mormon polygamy. These strange bedfellows, not to put too fine a point on it, are all in bed together. Mixing our dangerous metaphors, untangling this rope of many colors and strands is not ethically or intellectually possible, no matter the parsing of the law or the facts.

And don’t forget Dantean greed. There are millions of dollars in land, held by some of the last Christian Socialists, though Mormons, Fundamentalist or mainstream, would wince at the term. Brigham hated capitalism. He thought that was a nice word for greed. In a sense,” Sarah” v. Texas is a case, like those in Utah and Arizona, where millions of dollars in land are at issue. In a very limited sense, and different by an order of magnitude, this is similar to the Japanese Relocation cases of early World War Two. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans lost their land to greedy folk in California and elsewhere. Never mind that no Japanese American, anywhere, anytime, was disloyal. But perhaps in Texas, “disloyal Japanese” is merely a metaphor. And perhaps such stretched hermeneutics is why “lawyers and hypocrites” is hypnenated in the New Testament. And why, for Robert Frost, America’s greatest poet, “the hearse horse snickered as it drew the lawyer away.”

Finally, a suggestion. I said earlier that polygamists, residing in the badlands of the American West, and beyond, are in fact, immigrants. Let’s do the one good thing George Bush the Less suggested in his eight years of horror. He, along with John McCain, briefly, proposed an amnesty for the millions of people who are here without papers. I wonder if Native Americans considered the fact that all those Europeans lacked papers? Or the Mexicans and the Spanish and the Native Americans that were forced off their land by another war of aggression, in the last century? Perhaps we might just extend amnesty to polygamists who just happen to be our neighbors? Surely DNA testing would find, in the polygamist community exactly what it would find in the monogamist community, that is, a lot of in-breeding. Something like Clarence Darrow, in the Scopes Trial, said to his hero, earlier. Like Rulon Jeffs, William Jenning Bryan died too late. His brain and much of his soul had departed before his body gave way. Darrow said to Bryan: when Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel, just who did those boys marry? A damned good question. Let our sisters and brothers come home, with total amnesty regarding the age of anyone’s marriage. This needn’t and shouldn’t include cases of forcible rape or torture. Of course these people fear forcible DNA samples. Just as hundreds of millions of other people would. In this and in any community.

In the life story of St. Thomas More, an underling of great pretension and little capacity approaches Sir Thomas and prays for employment. He is rejected by the Saint, due to the supplicant’s obvious venality and the lack of a shred of character. Roper, a hot-blooded intimate of St. Thomas More, senses the threat to the Saint from this viper. He proposes that Thomas do him in, regardless of the means. In the jurisprudential world, the ethic of means, not so much ends, occupies our interest. The right to counsel. To keep your home and hearth free of the state. To keep the police from placement under the marital bed. Like the polygamists, we don’t like the state to trespass into our homes, at will and by the entire community being judged, as a metaphor. Thomas says to Roper:”Our island is dotted, and preserved, by a whole forest of mighty trees. Trees that protect the potential malefactor until the actual commission of a crime. Would you have me violate such laws?” To which Roper responds, more or less: “I would cut down every tree, every old oak, every law in England to get this man before he gets you!” Thomas says:”And what would you do then, Roper, when the winds howl? What would you have to protect us all, with all the trees down?”

The palpable violation of many rights guaranteed by the American Constitution: our Bill of Rights, our Fourteenth Amendment, in “Sarah” v. Texas is obvious and huge. Similar restraints on the state exist in International Law. Thank God for the skunk at the garden party. Changing metaphors in this savage game of metaphors, what will we all do when the winds howl, and our own time to be the one left out, the marginalized and stereotyped. wilthout the great oaks protecting our homes and churches from the secular and savage state: For those not allowed within the civilizing city? The town square?

Let us let in our sisters and brothers, without reproach. Religious leaders, grant amnesty and forget the savagry of excommunication. Political and civic leaders, open our businesses and government offices without discriinataionl Never force a polygamist to lie to preserve his job securityl Ditto the military in revision of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” form of slippery ethics and law.

NOw is the time for mercy and justice to kiss.

Ed Firmage
Samuel Thurman Professor of Law, Emeritus
University of Utah College of Law.
Salt Lake City, Utah

Website: ed


To the Mothers of the FLDS Children:

You are not the victims here.  I know this is difficult for you to grasp as you deal with the pain of being separated from your children and having your life turned upside down.  I cannot fathom the emotions you are feeling at this time, and most of you were probably child brides raped by much older men, but at this point, you are not the victims here.  Once you pass 18 you are an adult.  I realize most you think you have no way out of polygamy and you may not want out at this time, but you are accomplices in the rape of your daughters and the emotional abuse of all your children at the hands of your husbands and your spiritual leaders. 

Every day you stay in the polygamist community, you are aiding and abetting the abuse of your children.  It’s time to decide if your faith or your children are your priority.


Polygamy and the Texas Raids

Mormon PolygamyThe massive raid upon a polygamist compound in Texas is one of the major violations of human rights in this country. This atrocity, shocking in its initial sweep, hugely over-broad , of children and their parents, gets worse day by day. Now, the pitiful last means of parents to communicate with their children and children with their parents by cellphones has been ended by confiscation of all phones.
I do not favor polygamy. Like most of the polygamous communities I have come to know over several decades, child abuse is prohibited by their own rules. So is torture or physical abuse of any kind.

When a people are driven into the desert, into retreat from a persecuting majority culture, a people may remain frozen in time just as if they were caught in ice and frozen, to appear later in a radically changed culture, during some thaw. In the nineteenth century, and every century before that, ages of marriage were much younger than now. I offer no excuse for the patriarchal distinction between genders though, sadly, it exists in many cultures. This I have long opposed in every dimension of society, polygamous and mainstream. But these deeply held traditions die hard. The only effective and compassionate way for this to happen is over time. With example set by leaders.

The criminal law is a vicious thing that possesses no subtlety. We need it for protection and as a last resort. But Jesus’ admonition against going to the law in all but the last most desperate alternative is simply the recognition of the law”s savagery. It possesses no subtlety and little judgment, too often, in its execution The perpetrator of any crime of abuse upon any young boy or girl must be punished. But this massive war against polygamy is unconstitutional, savage, and utterly self-defeating. This is a tragic example of the misuse of the criminal law, made much worse by the idiotic reporting by CNN, Fox, and all the feeding frenzy inclinations of 24/7 news media, with blood, the blood of all the victims of abuse in this tragedy, in the water. Have we no shame?

Edwin Brown Firmage bio, website
Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law, emeritus
University of Utah College of Law
Professor Firmage is the author, with Collin Mangrum,of Zion in the Courts: a Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,and with Francis Wormuth, To Chain the Dog of War: the History of the War Power of Congress,
both published by the University of Illinois Press. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah


%d bloggers like this: