Yesterday I got an invitation in the mail to a family reunion of the polygamous side of my heritage.
Nathaniel Henry Felt was an old-time Mormon polygamist who lived with his wives and kids in 19th century Utah, practicing his religion along with his whole crowded family.
My grandmother was especially proud of this part of her ancestry, referring to it often, even though she was a monogamous Mormon. I heard about ol' Nathaniel Henry more often than I heard about living relatives, so she looked up to the old boy.
Mormons, the "official" Mormons, anyway, gave up on polygamy in the late 19th century in order to get Utah admitted to the union, which happened in 1896. Before that the U.S. government said no way: You guys and all your wives will live in a territory until you go along with the established order in the rest of the nation to get your statehood. The polygamy groups which exist today are offshoots of the official Mormon church. They believe that Mormon leaders were guilty of apostasy when they gave up on polygamy.
So today the Mormon church officially hates polygamy; they don't want to be associated with the splinter groups who still practice what they call "the principle." The LDS Church even stumped politically for the ill-fated attempt lately to get an amendment going that would establish marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and not two guys or two women or a guy and a sheep or a guy and two or more women.
Anyway, I don't care about all of this, really. I don't care if people want to practice their religion as long as no sacrifices, animal or human, are involved, or as long as kids aren't abused. In other words, live and let live. If a guy wants to be married to two or more women then more power to him. Hell, let's make it fun! How about a woman married to two or more guys (this is polyandry, whereas a man married to more than one woman is actually polygyny, commonly called polygamy, which is the overall state of having multiple spouses).
Several cultures in the world today have multiple wives in their marriage practices, and they don't think it's any big deal. Why should I?
But, I won't be attending any family reunions for Nathaniel Henry Felt's descendents. Despite sharing their bloodlines, I'm not a part of that whole ancestor-worship culture.
Lately polygamy has been in the news, what with Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located in enclaves in several states and Canada, making the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. Way to go, Warren! You get your chance to become a martyr like your idol, Joseph Smith. I'm sure that will make you happy, won't it? Or do you believe in your religion enough to give up your life for it? Do you want to go down shooting it out with the G-Men, or will you hide out in your burrow with Osama bin Laden (also on the FBI's Most Wanted list, and also a polygamist). Will there be 72 virgin wives in heaven for you, Warren, if you go down as a martyr?
Like a lot of leaders of religious cults, Jeffs exercised extreme power over his followers. I'm thinking of people like Jim Jones of The Peoples' Temple, David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, and others I've totally forgotten. Guys with absolute power get drunk on that power and since Mormons, and even Mormons who aren't mainstream Mormons anymore, don't drink, it's about the only thing they can get drunk on.-