Kirsten Andersen

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Former ‘sister wife’:  Polygamy was ‘like living with adultery on a daily basis’

Kirsten Andersen

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 11, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A woman who lived in a polygamous ‘marriage’ in Utah for 18 years has spoken out to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, telling the paper that despite practitioners’ increasing push for public acceptance and legal recognition, all is not well behind closed doors.

“The only way that I can explain it is like living with adultery on a daily basis, and having the woman come home,” said Marion Munn, who spoke to the Daily Mail after a federal judge struck down Utah’s anti-cohabitation law, which the state had previously used to prosecute polygamists. 

Munn says that although she despised the idea of polygamy, she was convinced by her religious superiors that she risked God’s wrath if she failed to submit to the lifestyle.

“Certainly within Mormon-based polygamy, it's not really much of a choice, because Mormon scriptures teach a woman that if she doesn't consent to living in polygamy, God's going to destroy her,” Munn told the Daily Mail. “So for me going into it, I didn't personally want to live it, but I felt compelled to as a matter of faith.”

Munn was born in England, but moved to Utah after converting to a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism that still practices plural marriage.  Some 40,000 people are thought to live in polygamous ‘marriages’ in Utah, where their unions are recognized by their sects, but not the modern Mormon Church or the state. Nationwide, up to 100,000 people are estimated to be living in such arrangements.

Ironically, while Utah was forced to officially stamp out polygamy as a condition of statehood, it may now be the United States government that forces the practice back into the mainstream. As state officials fight to preserve the state’s definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the federal courts have been their biggest obstacle.  The decision to strike down the anti-cohabitation bill came on the heels of another federal court ruling redefining marriage to include homosexual couples (that ruling has been temporarily halted pending appeal).

In December, citing Lawrence v. Texas, the controversial 2003 Supreme Court decision that overturned anti-sodomy laws nationwide, Judge Clark Waddoups of the United States District Court ruled that Utah’s anti-cohabitation law was an unconstitutional intrusion of the state into the sexual behaviors of consenting adults. 

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the stars of the popular reality show “Sister Wives,” who have made a career out of popularizing polygamy in the mainstream media.  Kody Brown and his four ‘wives’ – one legal, the others not – moved to the suburbs of Las Vegas after their hit television program attracted unwanted scrutiny from Utah law enforcement.  But they sued to overturn Utah’s anti-cohabitation law, arguing it violated their religious freedom and privacy rights.

“This is essentially the Lawrence v. Texas for plural families,” said the Browns’ lawyer, Jonathan Turley. 

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes vowed to appeal the ruling.

While Kody and his ‘wives’ strive to put a positive spin on their polygamous lifestyle – their catchphrase is: “Love should be multiplied, not divided” – cracks sometimes appear in the shiny façade, revealing simmering resentment, jealousy and hurt feelings just below the surface.  Forced to compete for Kody’s time, money, and affection, the four women – Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn – have fought bitterly with him and each other over housing arrangements, pregnancies, child rearing, leisure time and just about everything else. 

“Part of the pathos of the Sister Wives show comes when patriarch Kody Brown introduces a new wife and mom to the ‘sisters,’” wrote legal analyst Marci Hamilton in a scathing article attacking the family’s lawsuit.  “For those who believe in gender equality, this arrangement should be seen as more than just television entertainment; it is a recipe for oppression, and a foot in the door for the patriarchal principle that unfairly ruled our world not so long ago.”

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“No collection of individuals—even those with their own reality-television show, or a set of religious beliefs—has the power or right to define what marriage is,” added Hamilton.  That is the obligation and power of the state legislature.  When marriage is defined, it also determines a wide range of issues, including who is responsible for which children, who inherits from whom, and who owns what.  These are crucial constitutive elements of our society that cannot be left to the whim of each individual.”

Hamilton drew attention to the high profile case of Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence behind bars for molesting underage girls he “married” within his sect.  

“Utah has declared polygamy illegal, and for good public-policy reasons,” Hamilton wrote.  “When practiced in a community, it leads to the necessity of each man looking to younger and younger women, and the abandonment of some of the boys to make the odds work for the men.  Even if the Brown clan can make polygamy look banal, as opposed to outright evil, the structure has a sure tendency to suppress women, foreclose the full flowering of their potential, and make children defenseless.”

Indeed, women and children who have escaped the lifestyle have long told horror stories about what it is like to live that way.

In her 2007 memoir Escape, Carolyn Jessop recounted her experience being married off to a 50-year-old member of Jeffs’ sect when she was barely 18. 

As one of six of the man’s ‘wives,’ the teenager, who had never even kissed a boy before, quickly realized that “the only way to protect myself in my marriage was by remaining of sexual value to him.  Sex was the only currency I had to spend in my marriage - every polygamist wife knows that.  A woman who possesses a high sex status with her husband has more power over his other wives.”

“If she becomes unattractive to him, she is on dangerous ground - usually winding up as a slave to the dominant wife,” Jessop explained.  “So although I hated Merril touching me, I knew I had to make myself attractive to him, even though there was no chemistry between us and our sex life was always perfunctory.” 

Eventually, Jessop had eight children by her husband, whom she says he beat regularly.  But when her seventh baby became ill with cancer as an infant, she realized that “no one cared” about her or her children.  Not one of the other wives came to see them during the long hospital stay or offered so much as a word of sympathy or support.

“This was a mark of the essentially competitive relationship we all had - the internal rivalries between six wives were hugely complex,” wrote Jessop.  But she said the experience was “a wake-up call.”  She began planning her escape, and in 2003, she fled with her eight children.  “Within hours,” she wrote, “Merril was hunting me down like prey, but I didn't care. I would rather be dead than live that way another minute.”

‘Better off dead’ is a concept revisited again and again in the gripping 1882 treatise The Women of Mormonism: The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves, which is filled with firsthand accounts of suffering by ‘sister wives’ in polygamous households.

“The house was a perfect hell, and every polygamous household is,” wrote one woman. “I defy any man or woman in [Utah] Territory to cite one instance of a polygamous household where there is anything approaching harmony – where there is not bickering, constant jealousy and heart-aches, even where the semblance of good relations is most rigidly observed.” 

“[Polygamy] renders man coarse, tyrannical, brutal, and heartless,” wrote another woman.  “It deals death to all sentiments of true womanhood. It enslaves and ruins woman. It crucifies every God-given feeling of her nature. She is taught that to love her husband as her heart prompts her to do, and to feel the natural jealousy that comes from seeing her husband marry another woman, is wicked, and springs from her innate depravity; that she must crush out and annihilate all such feelings.”

Yet another wrote, “How can a wife have those holy and tender feelings which should always be associated with the marriage tie, and which are inseparable from a true union, when she can speak, and to all appearances calmly, of her husband's having ‘gone to stay with some other woman?’ What ideas of home love and home associations can children have who talk about 'father's week at the other house,' and who discuss freely which woman is his favorite, and why she is so, and which woman's children he is most indulgent to, and provides for the best?”

Chris Gacek, senior fellow at the Family Research Council, told LifeSiteNews he believes polygamy is inherently unfair to women.

“Monogamy benefits women on many levels, and research shows that includes the emotional and spiritual,” Gacek said.  “Efforts to undermine the definition of marriage in one area (e.g., number of marital partners) inevitably lead to conceptual murkiness about the nature of the conjugal relationship that men and women can expect of each other.”

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