“Plural Marriage in Utah,” Church History Topics
“Plural Marriage in Utah”
In accordance with a revelation to Joseph Smith, plural marriage—the marriage of one man to two or more women—was instituted among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s in Nauvoo, Illinois. It was first introduced privately to a small group of Church members, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. After the Saints had moved to Utah, Church leaders publicly acknowledged the practice, and between 1852 and 1890, Latter-day Saints openly practiced plural marriage.
During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God. Not all, however, were expected to live it. Indeed, this system of marriage could not have been universal due to the ratio of men to women. Church leaders viewed plural marriage as a command to the Church generally, while recognizing that individuals who did not enter the practice could still stand approved of God. Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives. By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households, and it appears that the percentage continued to decrease over the next 20 years.
For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a significant sacrifice. Despite the hardships some experienced, the faithfulness of those who practiced plural marriage continues to benefit the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries. Although members of the contemporary Church are forbidden to practice plural marriage, modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community.
For further information on the practice of plural marriage in Utah, see “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah,” Gospel Topics Essays, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.