Good time to repost this from 2008
Anne Wilde is a co-founder of Principle Voices, a leading polygamy advocacy group, and a member of the Utah Attorney General’s Safety Net Committee, an outreach organization created to work with polygamist families. She is also co-author (with Mary Batchelor and Marianne Watson) of Voices in Harmony: Contemporary Women Celebrate Plural Marriage.
We spoke by phone.
Anne Wilde was a plural wife for 33 years, until the death of her husband.
She doesn’t wear a prairie dress. She doesn’t live in an isolated compound. She holds a B.A. in Business Education and is a published author.
And she wants you to know she is not unusual.
Polygamy in the United States, she says, is far more diverse than just a few isolated communities.
“There’s no recipe for how to live this,” she says.
In addition to organized religious communities, there are up to 15,000 independent Fundamentalist Mormon families practicing plural marriage on their own. The Principle Voices website also carries links to Christian and other non-Mormon groups practicing polygamy.
“There are a lot of people who live [polygamy] for other reasons in the United States. Muslims and Jews who live it as a Biblical principle or may just live it because it’s convenient- there’s all different reasons.”
Ms. Wilde and her co-authors decided to write Voices in Harmony in part to counter negative media coverage of plural marriage.
“If we don’t speak up and show the other side of the picture then they’re going to keep talking for us and everybody’s going to think it’s just a terrible lifestyle.”
As part of the research for Voices in Harmony the authors sent surveys to Mormon plural wives. The results showed that the average plural marriage has 2-3 wives and 7-10 children. The typical plural wife is educated. She may share a single residence with the rest of the family or have a home of her own. Many polygamous families live quietly alongside their monogamous neighbors.
“…there are many, many women who have freely chosen this lifestyle as consenting adults and that are happy and adjusted in it,” she says.
A plural wife is often a working mother. The large families produced by plural marriage can be difficult for one man to support; Ms. Wilde worked and said she was glad to contribute to her family’s income.
“A lot of wives feel the same way,” she says. “They are highly educated in many cases and they want to use that education in helping the family.”
There are risks, however. Polygamy in illegal in all 50 states and is a felony in
“It lends to isolation because people don’t want to take the risk of coming out in public or being found out. The kids in public school can be ridiculed; that’s why they try to keep that kind of quiet.”
A reluctance to come forward can mask problems such as poverty or domestic abuse. That is where Principle Voices and the Safety Net Committee try to step in and help.
“We have also tried to help our own people in understanding these [state] agencies are there to help provide services for everybody across the board that qualifies, whether you’re a polygamist or not. And some of the poeple that live in this lifestyle are so isolated and so leery of the government…that they are in poverty where they really do qualify for these services.”
Her group gives presentations to polygamist communities on domestic violence. Polygamist groups need to understand, says Ms. Wilde, that domestic abuse is more than broken bones:
“…there’s other kinds of domestic violence and abuse. Emotional abuse. Mental and so forth…”
“Controlling and domineering husbands are not what our lifestyles are all about.”
Ms. Wilde says that she and her colleagues have worked with many groups, but efforts to reach out to Warren Jeff’s FLDS have been unsuccessful.
“We have offered and we’ve even sent money to help the women and children. And care packages and 500 letters from some of the polygamous children up here, as well as plural wives, to open up communications. So we have made an effort to try and help them understand that we’re very supportive of them as family- as long as there’s no red flags- which we don’t support.”
“But we have to make that distinction so they don’t think we’re supporting underage marriages or any kind of abuse- and I don’t think those situations exist in FLDS as much as people think they do.”
Ms. Wilde believes that polygamy should be decriminalized but not legalized. Reducing polygamy to a misdemeanor could help open up communities and encourage those in need of help to come forward.
“All in all, decriminalizing would remove a lot of that stigma and risk, because they couldn’t be charged with any kind of crime,” she says.
Most plural families have only one legal wife. Subsequent unions are “spiritual marriages” and have no official legal status. I ask Ms. Wilde how she would protect that rights of spiritual wives.
“This whole lifestyle is based on religious principles and if a family cannot provide and make sure all the wives are taken care of then they have no business being in this lifestyle. There shouldn’t have to be a law saying ‘OK, something happened, then the law says you get such-and-such.’ ”
She cites examples of polygamous families who have used wills and other notarized documents to organize their assets and childrearing responsibilities.
“I just know so many- really thousands- of women that have chosen this as consenting adults, it works for them, it’s a strongly held religious belief and it doesn’t mean there aren’t adjustments and challenges- just like in a monogamous family- but it’s worth working it out because they have this belief that you will be blessed for doing so.”
I ask her if she can envision a society where plural marriage and monogamy peacefully coexist.
There is a long pause. A little sigh.
“Oh,’ she says, “that would be a utopia for us.”