Monday, June 18, 2007

Glamour Magazine on FLDS Polygamy

Escape from polygamy
By Kathy Jo Nicholson with Jan Brown

I started sewing my wedding dress when I was 14 years old. Most girls
would never think of marriage at such a young age, but some of my
peers were already wives and mothers. I knew it wouldn't be long
before I was married off, just like my mother had been, to a man who
would eventually have three or more wives.

I was one of 13 children raised by our father and three mothers in a
fundamentalist Mormon community in Utah. The Fundamentalist Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is not associated with
regular Mormonism (LDS). FLDS followers practice the "Principle" of
polygamy, which is now banned by the mainstream Latter Day Saints. The
idea behind polygamy in the FLDS is that a man must have at least
three wives in order to go to heaven. Young girls are "placed" with
husbands by the church leader, or Prophet. These spiritual marriages
are not legally binding, but in the eyes of FLDS members, they are
sacred. If a woman serves her husband faithfully, he may invite her to
join him in the celestial kingdom of heaven. But should a woman
disobey the Prophet and refuse a life of polygamy, she will be damned
to eternal hell.

My mother is the second of my father's three wives. On the surface it
appeared that everyone got along, but there were always underlying
tensions. I sometimes get a kick out of watching Big Love on TV
because the rivalrous wives remind me of my mothers. (The Big Love
characters' racy sex lives, however, do not ring true; in the FLDS,
sex between a husband and wife is meant to be strictly procreative.)
The first wife in a polygamist family is traditionally the husband's
closest friend and confidante, but sometimes her preferred standing is
usurped by the wife or wives who can still bear children. This is how
it was in my family. Take my father's first wife, "Aunt" Barbara (we
were taught to refer to our non-birth moms as aunts, so that outsiders
wouldn't suspect our family practiced polygamy): Aunt Barbara was
hard-working and efficient. You could count on her to bandage your
skinned knee or quiet the tears of a screaming infant. But my mother
was younger and prettier. She would dance on top of the picnic table
or pretend you were a princess waiting for Prince Charming. She made
my father feel vibrant and alive, and I could tell that he gave her
special treatment for many years—until he took a third wife. In the
polygamous ceremony, the most recently wed wife places the hand of the
new wife into her husband's hand. It was painful for my mom to give
way to a younger wife. She rarely laughed after that.

Of my 12 brothers and sisters, four are full siblings. They were my
best friends, my companions and my world. We fought like regular
children, but we bonded together as outcasts in our town, enduring the
taunts and stares of other kids who made fun of our strange Little
House on the Prairie clothing and funny braided hairstyles. I still
recall the pain of hearing them yell "Polyg! Polyg!" (slang for anyone
who came from a polygamous family) as I walked down the street, but
having my siblings with me made it easier to bear. I have fond
memories of cuddling together with my sisters and whispering late into
the night.

<the story continues here>:

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