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Salt Lake City Weekly Only for Eternity

By Andrea Moore Emmett

FEBRUARY 1, 1999:  In September, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley appeared on Larry King Live for a rare television interview. During the friendly exchange of questions and answers, Hinckley was predictably asked about polygamy.

Contemporary Utah polygamy has recently been thrust into the international consciousness after a bruised and bloodied 15-year-old girl called police from a gas station in Cache County last May. She claimed she had been beaten by her father, John Daniel Kingston, for running away from a marriage as 15th wife to her 32-year-old uncle, David Kingston.

The Mormon leader responded to King by saying, "I condemn it, yes, as a practice, it is not doctrinal." More than a few viewers felt their mouths drop as King went on to other subjects unaware of the implications Hinckley's answer created.

Lifelong church member Ed Cox shakes his head. "It's easy to say we don't believe in secular polygamy when Larry King didn't know enough to ask any further. Hinckley denied secular polygamy while the church is sanctioning and performing ecclesiastical polygamy within the temples everyday," Cox said. "It's too bad the church can't simply be honest. Hinckley is not completely truthful and at the very least his answer was disingenuous."

Although the Mormon church now excommunicates members found living in polygamy, polygamy and Mormonism are still virtually synonymous. It's a union that can never be separated due to Mormon history and Mormon scripture canonized in Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). Mormon women live with the belief that if they remain faithful to LDS church doctrine, they will share their husband with other wives in the afterlife. Single women, they believe, will be provided a husband in the afterlife. Though some women admit to painful discomfort with this doctrine, they are told to "... have faith in a loving God's wisdom and judgment."

Valeen Tippetts Avery, Women's History Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and former president of the Mormon History Association, was one of those amazed by Hinckley's Larry King Live statement. "In those remarks, Hinckley did a 180-degree about face," she says. "In terms of importance of polygamy to the church, it is the main foundation. For Hinckley to say that, he needs to make it an official revelation and put it in the D&C."

But Latter-day Saint church spokesman Dale Bills says that Section 132 of the D&C stands as is without added scripture to negate, modify or change it in any way. "It is my sense that President Hinckley was speaking within the context of the current [earthly] practice of polygamy," he explains.

Faithful LDS are married in Mormon temples throughout the world. Those marriages are believed by members to be "sealed for time and all eternity." A "cancellation" of a sealing is considered a serious act that members are encouraged not to seek even after obtaining a civil divorce.

Should a civil divorce occur, a male is allowed to marry again in the temple "for eternity," while a female can only be sealed to one male at a time. In the case of the death of one partner, sealings are almost never broken. After the death of a male partner, a female cannot be sealed to a second male; children born within a subsequent civil marriage are sealed to the first husband, rather than their biological father.

Bills says that in some cases within temple ceremonies for the dead, family members have sealed deceased women to several husbands she may have had in her life, not knowing which one she would pick herself. "In such a case, free agency will prevail," he says.

Mormon women have always been required to obtain permission from their estranged partners and the Mormon church First Presidency, and must also have obtained a sealing cancellation, or "temple divorce" before being allowed to remarry in a temple ceremony. However, the policy of making a woman wait for a temple divorce until another man wanted to marry her in a temple ceremony has changed recently. Effective Jan. 1, it is now possible for a woman to receive a temple divorce after her civil divorce is final and after "legal issues are resolved." Bills adds, however, that these cancellations will be handled "carefully and methodically."

Since February 1994, LDS men must have permission from the First Presidency to remarry in the temple, but do not need permission from their ex-wives. And, men are not required to obtain cancellations of prior sealing(s) in order to remarry "for eternity" (as women are required), thus allowing men to accumulate numerous wives for the afterlife.

However, Bills does not view this as ecclesiastical polygamy. "First of all, I wouldn't use those terms," he says. "We have to see sealing ordinances as a promise pending faithfulness and yes, some will live polygamy." But according to Bills, plural marriage is not essential for those in the afterlife to live in what the Mormon church calls "the highest degree of glory," or the Celestial Kingdom.

Bills says that it is temple marriage, not plural marriage, that is "the new and everlasting covenant" based on a statement made by former LDS church President Joseph Fielding Smith. These assertions, however, directly contradict D&C, Section 132. They also contradict other comments made by Joseph Fielding Smith as well as Brigham Young, Joseph Smith Jr. and many other church leaders.

For instance, Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Mormon church, said, "Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or non-essential to the salvation of mankind ... some of the saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife ... will receive an exaltation as great and glorious if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my protest against this idea, for I know it is false. ..."

Sometimes, a bishop or stake president asks, but does not require, that a man seeking another temple marriage obtain a letter from his ex-wife explaining the divorce from her perspective. In such cases, whether a letter is written or not, or whether it implicates him in wrong doing or not, the male may be able to marry in the temple again.

Tippetts Avery explains that situations like these vary between bishops, stake presidents and other church leaders, and can be a source of confusion. Further confusion lies in differentiating policies, tenets and doctrine. "What you have is people trying to get divorced going to church leaders and they're told what is believed by that leader," she says. "People have to be careful when the church is doing theology and history. The Mormon church has a hard time doing both."

Ed Cox and his wife Joan share myriad experiences with ecclesiastical polygamy, making up a hodgepodge of entanglements and complications wrought through various sealings in Mormon temples.

Cox's father was married and sealed to a woman who later died, then he married Ed's mother and was sealed to her as well. His father then civilly divorced Ed's mother while remaining sealed to her, and was married and sealed in the temple to another women, giving him three wives for the eternities--two of whom were living.

Long before his marriage to Joan, Ed Cox was married and sealed in the temple to his first wife. They divorced after 37 years. She requested a letter from Ed that would give her permission to cancel their temple sealing, so that she could be sealed to her current husband, who is already sealed to two previous women, one of whom is still living.

Joan was also sealed in the temple previously to a man she was married to for 36 years. During some of their married life he had been a bishop. "I could never request a temple cancellation without permission from him because I'm a woman," she says.

After her civil divorce, Joan received a call from her ex-husband's bishop informing her that her ex-husband was marrying again in the temple. "He wanted me to write a letter about the divorce, so I asked him what was in it for me, since he could still go to the temple without a letter from me," she recalls. "He asked me what I wanted and when I told him I wanted a cancellation of my sealing, he said, 'That's impossible.'" The bishop explained that she could have a cancellation someday--if another man wanted to be sealed to her in a temple.

"In other words, it was like a transfer of ownership--as though a woman is an automobile," Joan says. "And though he has serious moral problems, I never wrote the letter, because he's the father of my children and I don't want to hurt them."

Joan adamantly believes that as an adult member of the LDS church, she should have been able to take her divorce decree to the bishop and request a cancellation of sealing without any questions asked.

The Coxes are no longer active members of the Mormon faith. As such, they don't view the sealings as valid and find some amusement in the situation. "It's very interesting that [until this year] the only way I could have the sealing canceled is for Ed and I to pretend that we want to go to the temple," she says.

DeeVie (who does not use a surname), is a grandmotherly former Mormon who also had her television tuned to Larry King Live the night of Hinckley's interview. "I thought, 'You liar. You know darn well that polygamy is Mormon doctrine,'" she says.

DeeVie says that her children suffer significantly from the effects of ecclesiastical polygamy. "My ex-husband's new wife feels she owns my children and they seriously resent it. It's all about ownership," she says. "In the church, his new wife's belief is that if I don't repent, come back to the church and do what they tell me to, she'll have my children in the hereafter and I won't be there."

According to DeeVie, her husband was domineering, abusive and involved in several affairs during their 40-year marriage, but she was told to "forgive [him] 70 times seven." After the first 20 years, she briefly left and sought counseling from a priesthood holder who told her to go back and support her husband. "He said if he didn't treat me right I'd be given to a more worthy man in the hereafter. Just like I was one of the cows," she says. "I forgave again and pretended that everything was hunky-dory, peachy pie and wonderful, wonderful. Of course I was on anti-depressants."

It was another 20 years before she finally had enough. The day after her divorce was final, her ex-husband remarried in a temple ceremony.

DeeVie walked into the LDS church office building in downtown Salt Lake City, and told a receptionist that she wanted her name removed from church rolls. "The girl said I needed to talk to brother so-and-so about it," she recalls. "I said, 'You don't understand. I'm an adult. I know what I want and I don't need anybody to talk to me.'"

She was then given a form to fill out, after which she asked where to go to have her temple sealing canceled. DeeVie was sent to another floor in the building where the same conversation was repeated. She eventually wrote her request on a piece of paper. "I got a letter from the church about my membership being terminated, but I never heard anything about the cancellation of my sealing," she says. "Now that I'm reminded of it, I think I'll go check on that. For all I know I'm still on records as his first wife in eternity."

Even though DeeVie is no longer a believer, the idea of her name linked with her ex-husband and his second wife nags at her. "I'm essentially his property on some record somewhere," she says. "I don't believe in polygamy and I don't want it on any records that I have any part of it, because he doesn't own me and neither does the church."

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