They don’t support the practice of polygamy today, yet these Latter-day Saints see the faces of their great-grandparents in the FLDS women and children.
They hear echoes of 19th-century salacious – and false – rumors about their Mormon forefathers seducing women and having sex on temple altars. And they worry about government officials having power to decide what’s best for children.
“As the FLDS are, we once were,” says Guy Murray, a lawyer in Southern California who has been blogging daily in defense of the FLDS community’s civil rights. “Back then, we were the ones in the compound. We’ve all seen the photos of our brethren who went to prison rather than give up their wives.”
Since the LDS Church officially ended its practice of polygamy in 1890, Mormonism has become a “more respected, mainstream, conservative government-supporting institution,” Murray says. “But we are just one popular opinion away from where these folks are.”
Utah attorney Blake Ostler agrees. “I would never condone child abuse or the kinds of marriage between older men and young women. But the answer is not . . . blatant disregard for their constitutional rights.”
Mormon officials issued a statement reiterating the church’s anti-polygamy stance. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has “no affiliation whatever with the Texas-based sect,” the statement said.
That wasn’t enough for Murray.
“They’re more concerned with the church’s public image than they seem to be at what’s happening to these [FLDS] people,” he says. “It goes beyond religious ties. This is an issue that every American should be concerned about – whether LDS, FLDS, Muslim or atheist.”
It’s unclear, though, how many Mormons share such views.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll of 314 people reported in the LDS Church-owned Deseret Morning News revealed that 31 percent of Utahns believe Texas authorities were definitely justified in removing the children and another 31 percent believed the actions were probably justified; 13 percent of those polled believed the actions were probably not justified and 6 percent said they were definitely not justified. The poll has a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.
“I vacillate between deep sympathy for people who are simply trying to follow what they believe and a worry that their entire social structure may engender abuse,” says Janet Gerrard-Willis, a Utah mother and blogger at feministmormonhousewives.org.
But, says Garrard-Willis, who descended from polygamists on both sides, “people make the same accusations about my church.”
Elizabeth Harmer-Dionne, a Boston attorney, is also torn. She sees differences between the past Mormon polygamy and today’s FLDS. The former involved only about 20 percent of the larger LDS population. Brigham Young allowed any woman who was unhappy to divorce her husband, thus allowing women more choices.
“My ancestors worked things out fine,” says Harmer-Dionne, who is still not a fan of today’s polygamist groups.
“I saw a lot of abuse at a compound when I was at Bountiful High School,” she says. “But I am a die-hard supporter of religious liberties. If they can invade the FLDS temple, they can invade my temple.”
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