Plural wives defend lifestyle

First came the book, Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage.

Then a short-lived and mostly overlooked magazine about polygamy: Mormon Focus.

Now, women behind those efforts have organized Principle Voices for Polygamy to air positive information about living “the principle,” as those engaged in plural marriage call it.

“It is more or less an advocacy group to balance the negative publicity that has been out there so many years,” said Anne Wilde, who founded the group with Mary Batchelor, Marianne Watson and Linda Kelsch.

They describe plural marriage as a “wonderful experience” — which sets them apart from the very vocal Tapestry Against Polygamy, which offers help to those who would leave polygamous relationships.

“They are totally against polygamy and want to take away choice for polygamy,” Kelsch said. “We want to maintain whatever choice the individual wants to make, whether that’s for polygamy or not.”

With that in mind, Principle Voices will focus on building public awareness about and acceptance of polygamy. Its ultimate goal is ambitious: to be a force in getting polygamy decriminalized.

Wilde said the fledgling organization has support from leaders of most of the state’s polygamous groups. One exception: Warren Jeffs, the reclusive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Az.

An estimated 30,000 people in the Intermountain West are engaged in polygamy, which was first embraced by and then disavowed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Principle Voices’ first foray into the spotlight came with 2000′s Voices in Harmony, a collection of essays by polygamous women.

Then the group started talking about plural marriage to government officials and interested groups.

During the 2002 Winter Olympics, it distributed about 200 informational packets to reporters covering the Games.

Last summer, the women sent information to polygamous communities about dangers of underage marriages and how to handle investigations by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.

Last fall, they participated in the Utah/Arizona Polygamy Summit and set up a two-day meeting with state officials in Centennial Park, Ariz., also a polygamous community. Earlier this month, some spoke to a statewide gathering of police officers and provided sensitivity training to social service agencies.

In 2003, they printed about 5,000 copies of Mormon Focus. That first — and last — issue featured articles on living in plural marriage, home schooling and an overview of various polygamist communities.

As it turned out, most polygamists didn’t want such attention; other potential subscribers were leery of having their names attached to “fundamentalist literature,” Wilde said.

“We probably had our sights set too high,” she said.

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