By Rupert Cornwell
Published: 12 May 2007
Mitt Romney, the Mormon running for US President, has condemned his
religion's former practice of polygamy, but acknowledges it could harm
his chances of winning the Republican nomination next year.
Polygamy, which the Mormon church banned in 1890, was "awful", Mr
Romney told the CBS 60 Minutes programme, to be aired tomorrow
evening. "That's part of the history of the church's past that I
understand is troubling to people," he added.
Mr Romney, whose great-grandfather had five wives and
great-great-grandfather had a dozen, is the former Massachusetts
governor. His bid for the White House is finely poised. Though he has
raised the most money among Republican candidates, he trails the
former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senator John McCain in most
polls. This week one did show him in the lead in the key early primary
state of New Hampshire.
Despite the 1890 ban, an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 breakaway groups
still practise polygamy in the Mormons' Utah heartland and
neighbouring states. The practice was outlawed when Washington
threatened to deny statehood to Utah, which was then a territory.
Mr Romney is the fifth Mormon to seek the presidency. His religion
could be a problem with conservative Christians who are an important
part of the Republican electorate. Another obstacle could be a film
out next month that pins responsibility for a notorious massacre of
pioneers in 1857 squarely on Brigham Young, the Mormons' charismatic
leader of the time.