Non-members I talk to often ask about the plural marriages performed back in the “old days.” Usually they ask about the “why,” why was there such a command given and why was it discontinued. Up until now I never thought about asking anyone that knows better than I do, I just thought about an answer that seemed logical to me: the command was given to a time when so many of the early members of the church had been killed and their families had been left without a provider, protector and so on. It was discontinued when the persecutions stopped and nobody was killed anymore. Could be that I’m wrong, but that’s why I’m asking you about it.
Aunty Mimmi, from Germany
Dear Aunty Mimmi,
If you look at the preface to Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants you will see that although the revelation on plural marriage was officially recorded in 1843, it was received by the Prophet in 1831. This was long before the persecutions were of such magnitude as to leave many families bereft of the their providers.
Plural marriage was a doctrine sanctioned by the Lord in Old Testament times, and the same doctrine was restored in the early part of the Restoration. However, it was only practiced upon authorization by the President of the Church, and only a very small percentage of the Saints were ever called upon to practice this principle. However, it was picked up by the enemies of the Church and soon became a political football. There was no law against polygamy in the United States when the revelation was given.
The Morrill Act, which prohibited that practice of bigamy, was passed by Congress on July 1, 1862, for the express purpose of outlawing Mormon polygamous marriages. When that law was passed, the Church submitted a case to the courts, and it was carried to the Supreme Court of the land, that in 1878 upheld the lower courts decision. Consequently, the Manifesto, banning the practice of plural marriage in the Church was accepted on September 24, 1890, and adopted by the Church at General Conference on October 6 of that year.
The practice of polygamy under the sanction of the Lord is a principle of a highly spiritual nature, as explained the D&C 132. The principle has never changed, but the practice has been terminated in order that we may be obedient to the laws of the land, as specified in the twelfth Article of Faith.