Latter-day Saints and Polygamy

Between 1852 and 1890, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially taught and practiced plural marriage (or polygamy). The history of plural marriage in the Church is complicated and generates lots of questions for people today. This article discusses how and why polygamy was practiced historically by the Latter-day Saints.

What is polygamy?

Polygamy is a form of marriage where someone is "married to more than one person at the same time."[1] Polygamous marriage systems have been documented widely among both ancient and modern human cultures, although polygamy is seldom practiced today.[2]

Polygamy is often used to refer to polygyny, which is when a man is married to multiple women at the same time.[3]

What is polygamy in the context of Mormon history?

Between 1852 and 1890,[4] members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught and practiced polygamy (or plural marriage—a man having more than one wife) as a Church doctrine and marriage system.[5]

The History of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Origins of Plural Marriage

ca. 1831

Joseph Smith[BIO] learns that plural marriage will be a part of the restoration, as recalled by Orson Pratt,[BIO] Helen Mar Kimball,[BIO] and others.[6]

ca. 1835

Joseph Smith is sealed to Fanny Alger,[BIO] whom most historians considered to be Joseph's first plural wife.[7]

Circa 1841–1843

Joseph Smith privately teaches plural marriage in Nauvoo and marries additional women as plural wives.[8]

July 12, 1843

Joseph Smith records the revelation now canonized as section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which discusses both eternal marriage and the principle of plural marriage.[9]

June 27, 1844

Joseph Smith is murdered in Carthage, Illinois.[10]

Plural Marriage in Utah

August 29, 1852

Orson Pratt publicly announces plural marriage as a practice of the Church.[11]

February 1853–July 1854

Orson Pratt publishes the periodical The Seer in Washington, D.C., which outlines the theology and practice of plural marriage in the Church.[12]


The United States Congress enacts the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which overturns polygamy laws passed in Utah, restricts the property holdings of religious organizations, and criminalizes polygamy with penalties of up to five years in prison.[13]


Joseph Smith's July 12, 1843 revelation (Section 132) is canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants.[14] Two years later, it is also republished in the Pearl of Great Price.[15]


The United States Supreme Court hands down a landmark decision in Reynolds v. United States, upholding the constitutionality of the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act and determining that the practice of plural marriage is not protected under the First Amendment.[16]


Congress passes the Edmunds Act, which makes polygamy and "unlawful cohabitation" a federal misdemeanor.[17]

ca. 1882–1887

Many Church leaders, including President John Taylor,[BIO] go into hiding or exile to escape federal prosecution and imprisonment under the Edmunds Act.[18]


Congress passes the Edmunds-Tucker Act and strengthens the provisions of the Edmunds Act by removing the legal status of the Church, confiscating Church property, and removing the right for women to vote in Utah.[19]

May 19, 1890

The Supreme Court rules that the Edmunds-Tucker Act is constitutional.[20]

October 6, 1890

Wilford Woodruff[BIO] issues the Manifesto, stating, "My advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land."[21]

Plural Marriage After the Manifesto

January 4, 1893

United States President Benjamin Harrison[BIO] grants amnesty and pardon to Latter-day Saints who had been targeted by federal anti-polygamy legislation.[22]

January 4, 1896

Utah adopts a state constitution that says "polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited" and becomes the 45th state in the Union.[23]

ca. 1890–1904

Church leaders continue to perform a limited number of plural marriages in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.[24]


A congressional hearing is undertaken to determine if Reed Smoot,[BIO] an apostle who was elected to the United States Senate, is eligible to be seated and concludes with a vote allowing Smoot to serve in the Senate.[25]

April 6, 1904

Joseph F. Smith[BIO] issues the "Second Manifesto" which states that members who enter into plural marriage will be excommunicated.[26]

April, 1911

The First Presidency, consisting of Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund,[BIO] and John Henry Smith,[BIO] reaffirms the "Second Manifesto" in general conference.[27]

April, 1921

Heber J. Grant,[BIO] speaking in general conference, reaffirms the policy of his predecessor Joseph F. Smith of excommunicating members who enter into plural marriages.[28]

June 17, 1933

The First Presidency, consisting of Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins,[BIO] and J. Reuben Clark,[BIO] reaffirms that entering into plural marriage will result in excommunication.[29]

65 years pass

September, 1998

Gordon B. Hinckley,[BIO] speaking first with Larry King[BIO] and then at general conference, condemns the practice of polygamy by fundamentalist groups.[30]

September, 2018

Quentin L. Cook[BIO] of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says in a broadcast that is later published in the Liahona magazine that current Church leaders consider plural marriage as historically practiced as having "served its purpose."[31]

Expand Timeline

When did polygamy start in the modern dispensation?

Joseph Smith reportedly taught the principle as early as 1831,[32] but it was not until the early 1840s that plural marriage was introduced and practiced by a limited number of Latter-day Saints.[33]

The practice was officially announced in a special conference of the Church on August 29, 1852.[34]

What was the typical number of wives in a Latter-day Saint plural marriage?

A dataset of over 500 plural marriages prior to 1853 compiled by the University of Virginia indicates that the average number of wives at that point was 2.2 and the standard deviation was 1.4.[35]

How many Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy?

It's unclear. Neither the Church nor U.S. Census records comprehensively tracked plural marriage data in the Utah population, so the precise number of plural marriages is unknown.

Most historians estimate the rate of plural marriage was somewhere between 15-30% which meant that about 1 in 5 men had plural wives.[36]

Studies of Rates of Plural Marriage





Larry Logue, "A Time of Marriage" (1984)

Logue determined about 3 in 10 men in the St. George area from 1870-1890 ever practiced plural marriage.[37]


Irwin Altman and Joseph Ginat, Polygamous Families in Contemporary Society (1996)

Altman and Ginat estimate the rate of nineteenth-century plural marriages to be about 20%.[38]


William Volf, "Mormon Polygamy in the Nineteenth Century" (1999)

Volf reviews the literature on the demographics of polygamy and concludes that about 15–25% of Latter-day Saints throughout the territory practiced polygamy.[39]

~15–20% (men) and ~25–30% (women)

Davis Bitton and Val Lambson, "Demographic Limits of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Polygyny" (2012)

Bitton and Lambson break down the numbers between men and women practicing plural marriage in the nineteenth century.[40]


Lowell C. Bennion, "Plural Marriage" (2014)

Bennion deduced a 25–30% territory-wide average for rates of plural marriage by breaking down regional percentages throughout Utah.[41]

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Was divorce allowed in polygamist marriages?

Yes. Utah had liberal divorce laws in the nineteenth century,[42] and polygamous women could obtain a divorce relatively easily.[43]

Could anyone be a polygamist?

No. A man needed authorization through priesthood leadership before taking additional wives.[44] Brigham Young[BIO] said, "No man has a right to a wife, or wives, unless he honors his Priesthood and magnifies his calling before God."[45] Brigham was known to sometimes turn down requests from men to take additional wives.[46]

Did older men marry young women?

Yes. Older men sometimes married women with a considerable age disparity between them,[47] though this was relatively uncommon.[48][49]

In most polygamist and non-polygamist marriages of the time, women typically married in their late teens or early twenties, while the age of the husband typically depended on how many wives they had. Men who took second wives were usually between 5 and 10 years older than their second wife.[50][51]

Is it true that some prophets married much younger women as plural wives?

Yes. Brigham Young,[52] John Taylor,[53] Wilford Woodruff,[54] and Lorenzo Snow[BIO][55] all had plural wives who in some cases were considerably younger.

Were plural marriages to young teenagers typically consummated?

It's unclear. There was a reluctance among polygamy practitioners to write about sex.[56] Anecdotal examples suggest marriages to young teenagers were not typically consummated and that instead it was customary to wait until young wives were more mature before consummating the marriage.[57]

Is polygamy biblical?

Polygamy is referenced in the Bible, as well as Latter-day scripture.[58]

Polygamy in the Scriptures


Reference to Polygamy

Old Testament

The law of Moses allowed for and regulated polygamy.[59]

Polygamy is depicted in the Old Testament as an accepted part of ancient Israelite society that shares common features with other ancient Near Eastern cultures, although the extent of its practice among the Israelites is unknown.[60]

New Testament

The New Testament neither overtly sanctions nor condemns polygamy, although some New Testament passages might be interpreted as promoting monogamy.[61]

Greco-Roman culture generally frowned on polygamy,[62] and this attitude appears to have been adopted by some Jewish groups during the New Testament era.[63]

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon condemns polygamy except in cases where God commands it among his people to raise up seed.[64]

The text overtly and in some cases perhaps implicitly depicts polygamy among the Jaredites and the descendants of Lehi; most of these depictions are negative.[65]

Doctrine and Covenants

The earliest editions of the Doctrine and Covenants contained a section that disavowed polygamy.[66]

A revelation (Section 132) allows for plural marriage when it is commanded by God and regulated by the president of the Church with priesthood keys.[67]

Official Declaration 1 explains that monogamy is "God's standard for marriage" unless God commands otherwise and explains why plural marriage was stopped as a practice among the Latter-day Saints.[68]

Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price only mentions that Lamech had two wives, and contains no additional information on the subject.[69]

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References to Polygamy in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price



Genesis 4:19, Moses 5:44–54

Lamech, a descendant of Cain, had two named wives: Adah and Zillah.[70][71]

Genesis 16:1–6

Abraham is depicted as concurrently having a wife, Sarai, and a concubine, Hagar.[72]

Genesis 26:34–35, 28:6–9

Esau is depicted as having taken a number of non-Israelite wives.[73]

Genesis 29:15–35

Jacob is depicted as concurrently having two wives, Leah and Rachel, and two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah.[74]

Genesis 36:9–13

Eliphaz, one of the sons of Esau, had a concubine.[75]

1 Chronicles 2:18–20, 46–48

Caleb, the great-grandfather of Bezalel, the chief architect of the Mosaic tabernacle, had three wives and two concubines.[76]

1 Chronicles 4:1–8

Ashur, a descendant of Judah, had two wives.[77]

Judges 8:29–31

Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, had seventy sons from multiple wives and a concubine.[78]

1 Samuel 1:1–8

Elkanah, the father of the prophet Samuel, is depicted as having two wives—Hannah and Peninnah.[79]

1 Samuel 25:39–43, 2 Samuel 5:13–16, 12:7–8

David is depicted as taking multiple wives and concubines.[80]

1 Kings 11:1–8

Solomon is depicted as having a royal harem of 700 wives and concubines.[81]

1 Kings 20:1–12

Ahab, a wicked king of Israel who persecuted Elijah the prophet, is said to have an unspecified number of wives.[82]

2 Chronicles 11:18–23

Rehoboam, a king of Judah, had eighteen wives and sixty concubines.[83]

2 Chronicles 13:21–22

Abijah, a king of Judah, is depicted as having fourteen wives.[84]

2 Chronicles 24:1–3

Joash, the eighth king of Judah, had two wives.[85]

Esther 1–2

Ahaseurus was a Persian king and husband of both Vashti and Esther who also had a royal harem.[86]

Matthew 2

Herod, a Jewish king of Judea, is mentioned in the gospel of Matthew.[87] Although not reported in the New Testament, other sources refer to his polygamy.[88]

Jacob 1:15

During the time of the prophet Jacob, the text reports that the people of Nephi began to practice polygamy.[89]

Mosiah 11:1–4, 14

The wicked king Noah and his priests are negatively depicted as polygamists.[90]

Alma 10:11

Amulek, Alma's convert and eventual missionary companion, is depicted having "women," which some have speculated may be a reference to a plurality of wives.[91]

Ether 1:40–41, 6:20

The Book of Ether speaks of the brother of Jared having "families" and more children than seems feasible with just one wife, which some have interpreted to mean a plurality of families from different wives.[92] However, based on textual criticism of the Book of Mormon manuscripts and editions, some have disputed this reading.[93]

Ether 7:1–2

The first righteous Jaredite king Orihah begat over thirty children according to the Book of Ether.[94] This large number of children led Orson Pratt to conclude Orihah was "probably a polygamist."[95]

Ether 10:5

A wicked Jaredite king Riplakish is depicted as taking "many wives and concubines" into his royal harem.[96]

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What reasons did Church members give for practicing polygamy?

Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage in the nineteenth century gave a variety of reasons for it.[97] (See the table below.)

Examples of rationales given for plural marriage



God commanded it.

Orson Pratt, The Seer (1853).[98]

Parley P. Pratt,[BIO] Scriptural Evidences in Support of Polygamy (1856).[99]

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage, as Taught by the Prophet Joseph (1882).[100]

The Bible sanctioned it.

Orson Pratt, Speech (1869).[101]

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage, as Taught by the Prophet Joseph (1882).[102]

Lyman O. Littlefield,[BIO] Millennial Star (1883).[103]

Orson Pratt, The Seer (1853).[104]

It allowed more women an opportunity to be married.

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Plural Marriage, as Taught by the Prophet Joseph (1882).[105]

It allowed more spirit children of God to come to earth to receive a body.

Brigham Young, Speech (1855).[106]

It would produce healthier offspring.

Belinda Pratt,[BIO] Defence of Polygamy, By a Lady in Utah (1854).[107]

It would positively refine the behavior and attitudes of practitioners.

George Q. Cannon,[BIO] Speech (1869).[108]

It would give men a morally acceptable way to satisfy their natural sexual desires.

George Q. Cannon, undated manuscript.[109]

Orson Pratt, The Seer (1853).[110]

Romania Pratt Penrose,[BIO] Speech (1881).[111]

It would rid society of evils such as prostitution, divorce, poverty, and abortion.

Orson Pratt, The Seer (1853).[112]

Belinda Pratt, Defence of Polygamy, By a Lady in Utah (1854).[113]

Benjamin F. Johnson,[BIO] Why the "Latter-day Saints" Marry a Plurality of Wives (1854).[114]

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Why We Practice Plural Marriage (1884).[115]

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If polygamy was supposed to "increase seed," did that actually happen in Utah?

Yes, probably. While plural wives individually tended to have fewer children, polygamy in Utah decreased the number of unwed women and resulted in a significant increase in births compared with the United States population.[116]

Was polygamy needed to provide husbands for extra women in the early Church?

No, probably not. Several early Church sources suggested that there were more women than men in the early Church and that polygamy helped provide homes and spouses for these women,[117] but analysis of Utah census records and pioneer databases suggest there wasn't a significant disparity between men and women at the time.[118]

However, one study indicates that women were more religious than men, which would create a disparity between men and women marrying based on religion.[119]

Family photograph of Joseph F. Smith, his five wives, and most of their children taken in 1904. Middle row, from left to right: Mary Taylor Schwartz, Edna Lambson, Julina Lambson, Joseph F. Smith, Sarah Ellen Richards, and Alice Ann Kimball.

Is polygamy just all about having more sex?

Like monogamous marriages, polygamous unions include sexual intimacy.[120] People have practiced various forms of marriage for diverse reasons, including social, cultural, religious, and economic.[121]

What effects does polygamy have on societies that practice it?

Scholars who have studied polygamy have identified possible advantages and possible disadvantages with the practice.[122] (See the table below.)

Potential Advantages and Disadvantages of Polygamy

Possible Advantages

Possible Disadvantages

Evolutionary or biological advantages to human propagation. (Barash 2016)[123]

Gender inequality and disparity. (Brooks 2009)[124]

Birth of children from another wife to offset infertility. (Naseer 2021)[125]

Poor mental health of polygamous wives. (Bahari 2021) [126]

Distribution of child-rearing burdens. (Naseer 2021)[127]

Competition among wives for access to a husband and his resources. (Al-Krenawi 2006)[128]

Creation of durable kinship networks between families. (Pearsall 2022) [129]

Feelings of jealousy among spouses and children of different wives. (Burton 2023)[130]

Feelings of cooperation among spouses that strengthen family ties. (Ulrich 2017)[131]

Excluding younger men from the sexual and marriage marketplace. (Miller and Karkazis 2023)[132]

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Was polygamy difficult for Latter-day Saint women who practiced it?

For many, yes. Many accounts exist of women expressing difficulty coping with plural marriage, and some left the Church over polygamy and vocally criticized it.[133] However, other women defended the practice and wrote of blessings that came from it despite the difficulty.[134]

Statements from Plural Wives



Fanny Stenhouse[BIO]

"The thought of doing this was even worse than death. It would have been fearful to have followed my husband to his grave; but to live and see him the husband of another woman seemed to me like exacting more than human nature was capable of enduring. . . . There was a darkness before my eyes, and, struggle as I might, I could see no ray of light, no glimmering of hope. I was utterly cast down and broken-hearted, and felt almost as if the Lord had forsaken me. I could not go to my husband for sympathy; for I felt that his thoughts were with his young bride, and that my sorrows would only worry him at a time when he must desire to be at peace."[135]

Eliza R. Snow[BIO]

"In Nauvoo I first understood that the practice of plurality of wives was to be introduced into the church. The subject was very repugnant to my feelings — so directly was it in opposition to my educated prepossessions, that it seemed as though all the prejudices of my ancestors for generations past congregated around me. But when I reflected that I was living in the Dispensation of the fulness of times, embracing all other Dispensations, surely Plural Marriage must necessarily be included, and I consoled myself with the idea that it was far in the distance, and beyond the period of my mortal existence. . . . As I increased in knowledge concerning the principle and design of Plural Marriage, I grew in love with it."[136]

"Plurality of Wives is a great trial if you want to sit in the courts of Heaven honor Polygamy dont suffer your lips to say ought even if you do not believe in it. When I entered it I had no anticipation of ever being acknowledged as a lawful wife. I believed in it because I felt the work was true and I longed to see a Prophet. I feel proud that I ever embraced it. Polygamy did not hurt me, but to be looked upon as a Woman of light character that did hurt me, the very idea of not being a virtuous woman."[137]

Helen Mar Kimball

"I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons—a "blessing in disguise." As for its being degrading it had proven to be the very opposite. It was exalting in its tendency and calculated to raise mankind from the degraded condition into which they had fallen under the practice of a corrupt and hypocritical system of enforced monogamy."[138]

"The Latter-day Saints would not enter into this holy order of matrimony unless they had received some stronger and more convincing proofs of its correctness than the testimony of a man, for in obeying this law it has cost them a sacrifice nearly equal to that of Abraham. The promise attached thereto is the object for which they are struggling; without sacrifice no person can gain a glory in the celestial kingdom. For my part there is nothing that would induce me to go back to the pit from which I was dug or to lose my hold upon that crown which awaits all those who have laid their willing but bleeding hearts upon the altar."[139]

Belinda Pratt[BIO]

"I have a good and virtuous husband, whom I love. We have four little children, which are mutually and inexpressibly dear to us. And, besides this, my husband has seven other living wives, and one who has departed to a better world. He has, in all, upwards of twenty live children. All these mothers and children are endeared to me by kindred ties — by mutual affection — by acquaintance and association; and the mothers, in particular, by mutual and long continued exercises of toil, patience, long-suffering and sisterly kindness. We have all our imperfections in this life; but I know that these are good and worthy women, and that my husband is a good and worthy man: one who keeps the commandments of Jesus Christ, and presides in his family like an Abraham."[140]

Ann Eliza Webb[BIO]

"I had felt its misery; I had known the abject wretchedness of the condition to which it reduced women, but I did not fully realize the extent of its depravity, the depths of the woes in which it plunged women, until I saw the contrasted lives of monogamic wives. . . . Rich or poor alike suffer. Polygamy bears no more lightly on the one than the other. If they are poor, they have to work for themselves and their children, suffer every deprivation, submit to every indignity. If they are in more affluent circumstances, they have more time for brooding over their sorrows, more leisure for the exercise of the natural jealousy which they cannot help feeling for the other wives. Happiness and contentment are utterly unknown to Mormon women; they are impossible conditions, either to dwellers in poverty or plenty."[141]

Annie Clark Tanner[BIO]

"I can remember so well the relief that I felt when I first realized that the Church had decided to abandon its position [on plural marriage]. For all of my earlier convictions, a great relief came over me. . . . Our religion had made polygamous marriages honorable, hence bearable, and sometimes profitable. Many times I had expressed my gratitude for my noble parents."[142]

Zina D. Huntington[BIO]

"I wish to bear my testimony to the principle of celestial marriage, that it is true. . . . But thanks to our Heavenly Father, there are many left upon the earth who were born under the celestial covenant, although they do not at present appreciate their position. The day will come when they will feel the Spirit of God resting upon them, and they will feel that it is an honor to be born in that covenant. I feel to bear my testimony to the truth of this work."[143]

"When I heard that God had revealed the law of celestial marriage—that we would have the privilige of associating in family relationship in the worlds to come—I searched the scriptures, and by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for [my]self that God had required that order to be established in his church."[144]

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Was polygamy difficult for Latter-day Saint men who practiced it?

Some men expressed that plural marriage was difficult. For example, John Taylor[BIO] said that the practice "tried our minds and feelings" and was "heavy upon us."[145] George Q. Cannon[BIO] referred to the "difficulties and perplexities" of caring for a polygamous family and that it was a "grave responsibility."[146]

Original published version of Wilford Woodruff's 1890 manifesto announcing the Church's intention to cease practicing plural marriage. Church History Library.

Why did polygamy in the Church end?

In response to anti-polygamy legislation passed by the federal government of the United States, Wilford Woodruff issued a proclamation in 1890 saying he would submit the Church to the law of the land and end the practice of plural marriage.[147] He said that he received a revelation instructing him to do this.[148]

Isn't that convenient that a revelation was received to cease plural marriage right when the government passed legislation against it?

Yes. Revelation is often given in response to the church facing an impending problem or changing social factors.[149] As Church president, Woodruff said he was directed by revelation to end plural marriage for the "temporal salvation" of the Church,[150] which was facing federal disenfranchisement.[151]

Did people practice polygamy after the manifesto?

Yes. After Woodruff's 1890 manifesto, there were several hundred plural marriages.[152] This continued up until 1904 when a second manifesto was issued by Joseph F. Smith prohibiting any further plural marriages under penalty of excommunication.[153]

Polygamy is still practiced today by some fundamentalist Mormon groups,[154] but these groups are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially prohibits plural marriage.[155]

What have Church leaders said about polygamy after the manifesto?

They have mainly emphasized that practicing polygamy is punishable by excommunication, that the Church honors the law of the land, and that it is not affiliated with any fundamentalist group.[156] However, they also praised early Latter-day Saints who faithfully kept the commandment to practice plural marriage.[157]

Church Leader Statements on Polygamy Post-1890

Church Leader



Lorenzo Snow


"[T]he Church has positively abandoned the practice of polygamy, or the solemnization of plural marriages, in this and every other State, and that no member or officer thereof has any authority whatever to perform a plural marriage or enter into such a relation."[158]

Joseph F. Smith


"I hereby announce that all such [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof, and excommunicated therefrom."[159]

First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, John Henry Smith)


"Rumors of surreptitious unions contrary to these official announcements being circulated, the present president of the Church, on April 6, 1904, reiterated the universality of the inhibition, and proclaimed that any person entering into or performing a plural marriage would be liable to be dealt with according to the rules of the Church and excommunicated therefrom."[160]

Heber J. Grant


"But I want to say to the Latter-day Saints that no man upon the face of the earth has any right or any authority to perform a plural marriage, and there are no plural marriages today in the Church of Christ, because no human being has the right to perform them."[161]

First Presidency (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, J. Reuben Clark)


"We confirm and renew the instructions given to the Church officers by President Joseph F. Smith in 1904, in 1910, and in 1914 . . . if persons are found . . . who are entering into or teaching, encouraging, or conspiring with others to enter into so-called polygamous or plural marriages, we instruct such officers to take action against such persons, and, finding them guilty, to excommunicate them from the Church."[162]

David O. McKay


"I explained that it was my understanding regarding plural marriage that the having of more than one wife is not a principle but a practice. The principle of the eternity of the marriage covenant revealed to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] and all the blessings pertaining to that may be obtained by a man with one wife." [163]

Gordon B. Hinckley


"If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose."[164]

First Presidency (Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson,[BIO] James E. Faust[BIO])


"Polygamy was officially discontinued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1890. Any Church member adopting the practice today is excommunicated. Those groups which continue the practice in Utah and elsewhere have no association whatever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and most of their practitioners have never been among our members."[165]

M. Russell Ballard[BIO]


"Let me state clearly that no polygamist group, including those calling themselves fundamentalist Mormons or other derivatives of our name, has any affiliation whatsoever with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."[166]

Quentin L. Cook


"In the senior councils of the Church, there’s a feeling that plural marriage, as it was practiced, served its purpose. We should honor those Saints, but that purpose has been accomplished. Now, there are unanswered questions. But I want you to know that we have a loving Heavenly Father who has a perfect plan, that His plan is one of happiness, and that we have a Savior who did everything for us. We can trust in Them."[167]

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Will polygamy come back?

Possibly, but probably not. The Church has no official teaching on this, and Church leaders have given different views on if or when it may come back.[168]

Is polygamy an eternal doctrine that will exist in the afterlife?

Probably. See "Polygamy in Eternity."

Do Latter-day Saints believe God is a polygamist?

Some Church leaders historically have taught that God had multiple wives,[169] but the Church does not affirm this as an official doctrine today and has repeatedly referred to a singular Mother in Heaven.[170]

Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus had multiple wives?

Some Church leaders in the past have taught that Jesus was a polygamist,[171] but the Church today does not take an official position on whether Jesus was married or if He practiced plural marriage.[172]

Do we still technically practice polygamy through temple sealings?

Yes, sort of. Current Church policy allows for a man to be concurrently sealed to multiple women.[173] However, it does not allow for cohabitation or sexual intimacy between a man and multiple women, even in countries that might legally recognize polygamy.[174]

In practice, heterosexual monogamy is the only form of marriage recognized as legitimate by the Church.[175]

Will I ever have to practice polygamy?

No, probably not.[176] The current official position of the Church is that only heterosexual monogamy is permitted, and any other form of marriage will result in disciplinary action.[177]

The Facts

  • Polygamy is a form of marriage where someone is married to multiple people at the same time.

  • Polygamy has been documented in many cultures.

  • Between 1852 and 1890, polygamy or plural marriage was officially practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • The exact number of practicing Mormon polygamists is unknown, but most scholars estimate that on average, about 1 in 5 men had more than one wife.

  • Polygamy began to end in 1890 when Wilford Woodruff issued a manifesto announcing the end of the practice of polygamy.

  • Some plural marriages continued to be sanctioned by the Church after the manifesto.

  • In 1904, Joseph F. Smith issued a "second manifesto" making excommunication the penalty for polygamy.

Our Take

Polygamy, or the practice of having more than one spouse, has been a practice in many cultures throughout human history. Today, the concept of polygamy can be uncomfortable or frustrating, especially because it is part of the story of the Latter-day Saints. Is it biblical? What was the purpose of having multiple wives? Was it just about sex?

In the Bible, some prophets practiced polygamy, and the Book of Mormon suggests its purpose was to "raise up seed." Joseph Smith, in the early 1840s, introduced plural marriage to Church members through revelation. For about 50 years, this practice continued, reaching a point where about 1 in 5 men were married to more than one wife.

Both men and women found this practice challenging. Some women viewed it as a trial, but also a blessing, while others found it unbearable. Polygamy established a unique family structure, one that is hard for us to understand today with our current views on marriage. It's reasonable to have conflicting emotions about it.

Today, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entering into polygamous unions face the possibility of excommunication. Although plural marriage is no longer a practice of the Church, its historical presence remains a challenging topic for many. It's natural to grapple with this aspect of Church history while continuing to hold faith in Jesus Christ and the restoration of His gospel in these latter days.

What's Your Take?

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  • Phillip
    It's been a while since I've looked into this topic. I believe the practice was established by inspired men of God but I still can't help but think about how difficult this must've been for many early saints.
  • Jack
    Polygamy perhaps one of the hardest topics, but reading what my ancestors thought of and practiced it has really helped me understand.