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Polygamy and Mormon Belief

Ernest Schaffer family of Cardston, Alberta in 1899.

Although the Mormon church officially forbade the practice of polygamy in 1890, plural marriage was openly taught and practiced by Mormon communities from the time leader Brigham Young brought his followers to the Salt Lake City Valley in 1847. In his "Teachings", President Charles Card had written, "I have constantly said that no man shall have but one woman at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise." The commandment to wed more than one woman was taken seriously by the Latter-day Saints - it had been approved by God in ancient times.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Watson of Mount View, Alberta in 1903. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, public opinion was against the practice. In 1882, after the introduction of numerous bills and anti-bigamy laws in the United States, the Edmunds Act finally stated that no "unlawful cohabitation" could take place among citizens, even if it was a religious and not a legal ceremony. Anyone who was found guilty of polygamy could be prosecuted, fined, and even sent to prison. Mormon colonies went to Mexico and Canada, where they felt they would be able to continue plural marriage customs, but sentiment was still against them, even though no formal law prohibited the privately arranged ceremony. When, in 1890, the Mormon church banned the practice, however, many Mormons still felt anger at the hypocrisy of the American lawmakers, many of whom they felt endorsed adultery, prostitution, and the homeless children that could be all but eliminated by following a different system of marriage.

Polygamy did not end completely in 1890, however. Marriages contracted before that date meant that many Mormon men felt obliged to continue to support their wives and children, although they may no longer have lived with them openly. Today, Mormons no longer publicly support the practice.

Charles Heber Dudley and family of Magrath, Alberta in 1900. It is important to note, however, that, although persecution of Mormon settlers were based upon what others may have found morally offensive, there has been much more to the practice and belief of the Latter-day Saints than marriage customs. In addition to following the teachings of the Book of Mormon as presented by founder Joseph Smith, the Mormons believe in the divinity and power of Jesus Christ. The Mormon religion teaches that there is a plan of salvation for every soul, and that followers should live their lives with faith in this salvation.

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