Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint at fault, and hesitate dislike.
No aspect of Mormonism has provided more interest for its detractors than sexuality. This reached its height during the years when polygamy was current, but has persisted despite the termination of plural marriage in 1890. However disguised the references to Mormon sexuality may be they appear with predictable regularity.
A succession of anti-Mormon writers infer that there is something unwholesome about Latter-day Saint attitudes to sexuality and family life. Burrell damns with faint praise the Mormon concept of eternal family life in a heavenly setting by pointing the reader away from Christianity towards Islam, doubtless with houris in mind. Burrell is not one to let insignificant details such as facts get in the way of a good tale.
Mormon literature paints a wonderful picture of families, separated by death here, being re-united in the life to come. But it is obvious from their writings that their ideas of future bliss owe more to Islam than to the Bible. For them, heaven means a continuation of earthly life, though on a higher plain [sic]. This means that a man and his wife (or wives) will continue the sexual side of their married life and will still be responsible for the rearing of children.
MacGregor's argument against the Latter-day Saint concept of Celestial family life is, typically, confined to low sarcasm. She speaks of wives being "eternally pregnant", a term borrowed shamelessly from Decker and Hunt, as she ridicules Mormon anticipation of a blissful eternity: an eternity in which not only the presence of the Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, will be enjoyed by partakers of heavenly bliss, which springs from association with wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children, reunited for an eternal existence in the presence of deity.
MacGregor is rewarded by sniggers from her audience when she expresses the idea of Latter-day Saint mothers using talcum powder on invisible spirit children so that they can be located.
Her "research" has not led her to the knowledge that Mormons believe that spirits are visible entities. She presents normative Latter-day Saint teaching as if it was a deadly secret which is kept secret from new members.
[Mormons] won't tell you that they hope to be gods themselves one day, even being exalted to "God the Father" of their own planet, where they will carry on celestial sex with plural wives, in order to populate an earth of their own!
MacGregor knows what Latter-day Saints do not. No information is available regarding the manner in which spirit children will be born during the eternities.
Joseph Smith's motive for plural marriage is suspected. A remark he made is taken to infer that he was a flirt.
"Whenever I see a pretty woman I have to pray for grace."
MacGregor says, He mustn't have prayed hard enough!
Burrell is aware of the Prophet's critics on this subject.
Smith's bitterest opponents have always maintained, therefore, that the revelation [on celestial marriage] was intended to give respectability to the prophet's illicit love affairs.
When plural marriage or polygamy was introduced the United States had no law in favour of monogamy, or any law against any other form of marriage. The 1862 anti-bigamy law which was specifically targeted at Mormon polygamy, sought to outlaw any kind of marriage except monogamy. It provided for harsh penalties for polygamist Latter-day Saints and disenfranchised the Church whilst prohibiting it to hold funds in excess of $50,000. But there were few prosecutions and no conviction under this law in Utah Territory, because although it was a federal law it was administered through local law officers, who were invariably Latter-day Saints. Mormon officials did not see the need to apply the law rigorously because they considered it acted directly against the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Despite this the pressure on the Saints to conform to monogamy increased. This was largely due to the population of the United States being predominantly Protestant who held the norm of monogamy as informed by their understanding of New Testament, an heritage from their Puritan forbears which guaranteed their revulsion at plural marriage. In their assault on Mormon polygamy they enjoyed the support of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
When Brigham Young's polygamous society survived the onslaught of public contempt, invasion, official connivance, and social ostracism, the gentile world made the Latter-Day Saints, proselyters almost without equal, the object of a vast evangelical crusade. In the vanguard of this assault marched the representatives of a new sect comprised mostly of the remnants of Mormonism left behind in the wake of the exodus. Headed by Joseph Smith III, son of the Prophet, this sect, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, believed that polygamy was the handiwork of Brigham Young, invented to gratify his passions and desires.
The Reorganite Church, referred to as Josephites in contrast to the Utah Mormons who were referred to as Brighamites, blamed Brigham Young for the introduction of all the doctrines they did not like. It is not possible to lay the introduction of polygamy before anyone but Joseph Smith.
To Latter-day Saints, plural marriage had divine sanction. Participation in such unions was dependent on practitioners maintaining the highest standards of Christian morality. But to non-Mormons plural marriage was evidence of depravity. Many Latter-day Saint leaders baulked at the prospect of the practice of polygamy when it was introduced. Sidney Rigdon refused outright to accept the principle. Whether his refusal was connected with the rift that had developed between himself and Joseph Smith is uncertain. Brigham Young accepted the principle in spite of his reservations. One of Young's daughters wrote in her history of her father,
Brigham Young as one of the great defenders of the prophet would naturally be one of the first to whom this revealed truth would be made known. He could not deny that the practice was biblical and he could not deny that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. To accept one truth was to accept all. However, his natural Puritanic chastity of mind and spirit revolted at this principle.
But however distasteful the brethren found the idea of plural marriage, they knew that their critics and enemies would judge them harshly.
The sophisticated world, of course, does not allow for such a thing as a "puritanical" or "reluctant" polygamist; to them it appears to be a hypocritical contradictio in adjecto. Even so Heber [C Kimball] was one.
Orson F Whitney illustrated the difficulties arising from the misunderstandings which plural marriage brought in its train.
Without doubt, the revelation of the great principle of plural marriage was a prime cause of the troubles which now arose, culminating in the Prophet's martyrdom and the exodus of the Church into the wilderness. True, the old causes remained, sectarian hatred and political jealousies, and these were the immediate reasons for such results. But back of all was the eternal warfare of truth and error, battling each other for the world's supremacy, and the mailed hand of Omnipotence pushing the chosen people along the thorn-strewn, blood-sprinkled path of a glorious destiny.
The polygamy question brought Mormon morality into sharp focus. In spite of the blessings it promised to faithful members, it was a gift to their enemies who were not slow to capitalise on it. From press and pulpit came lurid stories of chaste young women taken into captivity by evil Mormon missionaries for their harems and the harems of their leaders.
Trashy novels took up the idea so that there were few who did not identify Latter-day Saints with polygamy.
Some of the colourful tales were connected with a tunnel allegedly starting at Liverpool, England with its terminus in Salt Lake City.
The City of the Saints was reported to have a twelve foot high wall around it to prevent these wretched young women and others who were disaffected escaping.
Many who found no fault in the Church's doctrine were horrified at the cultural boundaries crossed by plural marriage even though it was legal and constitutional. Parley P Pratt wrote to the Editor's Chronicle on the subject.
I am willing to meet a convention of the ablest lawyers and clergy to be found in our country, and I hereby pledge my honor that I will publicly renounce Polygamy, and that the church I represent will do the same, on the following conditions, viz:
The Old and New Testaments, the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the laws of Utah Territory shall be their standard; and if in this wide range one item of law can be found wherein God, angels, men, prophets, apostles, the Son of God or the Holy Spirit have made plurality of wives a Crime, a transformation of law, or an immorality, then, on these conditions, we will renounce Polygamy. But till this is done we shall hold the law of God on the subject of matrimony, including a plurality of wives, as a most sacred institution, binding on our own consciences, in the free exercise of which we claim the protection so freely and fully guaranteed by the constitution of our common country.
The Constitution of the United States provides that Congress should not enact laws which prevented the free exercise of religion according to the conscience of the individual. However, it was to become evident that the "free exercise of religion" was not extended to Mormons, and this, it became evident, was how the majority of Americans wished the law to be applied. Latter-day Saints were thrust upon the horns of a dilemma. Obedience to God's Law was supreme, but one of those laws was obedience to the laws of the land.
As long as the constitutionality of the anti-polygamy law was being challenged by due process, the Saints felt no hurry to fall into line behind it. Its constitutionality was established when the 'Edmunds-Tucker Law' was ratified in 1890 by the Supreme Court. When the decision was handed down Wilford Woodruff required the Saints to abandon polygamy. Semonche comments upon the Supreme Court of the United States of America, and the part it played in bringing the practice of polygamy to an end.
In the last major case of the  term the Court joined in the national crusade against the Mormons and their practice of polygamy. In 1887 Congress, drawing upon its power over the territories, annulled the charter of the Mormon Church and directed proceedings to forfeit its property. Not called upon to determine the fate of the property but rather to pass upon the constitutionality of the statute, the Court responded with the most forceful assertion of congressional sovereignty over the territories in its annals. Throughout the whole opinion and, in fact, throughout the whole crusade, one gains the impression that the condemnation of polygamy was uppermost and all devices for its eradication were presumed legal....
Earlier in the term the Court had decided that, though polygamy was an article of the Mormon faith, the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment did not protect this abhorrent social practice. Gradually polygamy withered, more the result of the wise invocations of the President's amnesty power than of criminal prosecutions.
In today's Church polygamy is regarded as very much part of history. There is no understanding that it will be restored. In today's climate of opinion among Latter-day Saint sisters it would have very little chance of success. There are some apostate groups calling themselves ‘Mormon’ who have taken up plural marriage in the belief that in abandoning it the Church acted against the will of God. Members of the Church who join such groups are excommunicated. This does not prevent some writers making claims that the Saints are looking forward to entering into it again: inventive, but inaccurate.