Apr 18, 2016

Think Mormon offshoots have the most polygamists in U.S.? Think again

The Polygamy Blog

Salt Lake Tribune

Nate Carlisle

Apr 15 2016


This weekend, The Salt Lake Tribune will publish an article about "The Polygamy Question," an anthology from Utah State University Press of the latest scholarly examinations of polygamy.

Much of the anthology focuses on offshoots of the Mormon church practicing in the United States — especially Utah — and Canada. Some of that discussion examines the case of the Brown family from the reality television show "Sister Wives." On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Browns and reinstated a Utah law making polygamy a felony.

But one number jumped at me as I read "The Polygamy Question." In the introduction, the editors point to statistics suggesting the United States has more Muslim polygamists than offshoots of the Mormon church who practice polygamy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not practiced polygamy since 1890.

The editors — Janet Bennion, a professor of anthropology at Lyndon State College in Vermont, and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, the associate director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University, give estimates of 40,000 to 50,000 Mormon polygamists in the United States compared to 50,000 to 100,000 Muslim polygamists.

The editors acknowledge those numbers are not firm. For the Muslim figure, the citation is a 2008 NPR story that cites anonymous academics who have studied the issue.

The number for polygamous people who claim affiliation to Mormon offshoots has a footnote stating in part: "Reporting actual number of individuals and families that live a polygamous lifestyle is variable and unclear because standards differ in making this calculation."

"The Polygamy Question" doesn't offer estimates for polygamists in Canada. But one scholar who contributed an article suggests concerns about Mormon and Muslim polygamists influenced public policy there.

Melanie Heath, an associate professor of sociology at McMaster University, notes that in 2011 when the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld a law banning polygamy, the chief justice who wrote the opinion expressed concern that if polygamy was permitted there, it would encourage members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and immigrants from Middle East and African countries to practice it.


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