Monday, October 17, 2011

100 year ago today: Mitt Romney, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the 6,000 year old definition of marriage

One hundred years ago today The Logan Republican of Cache County, Utah published the obituary of President John Henry Smith. At the time of his death Smith was the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The obituary is, not surprisingly, laudatory but as I read it over I felt that there must be something missing. Smith had been one of the people who worked behind (and in front of) the scenes to negotiate Utah's transition from territory to state. He had been born in Iowa in 1848 son of Gordon Smith (a leader in the LDS) and must have known in his childhood and his early adult life many of the towering (and many married) figures in the LDS. Including his own father.

Reading that obituary made me think about a statement made not to long ago by Mitt Romney, We’re going to call marriage what it’s been called for 6,000 years or longer: A relationship between one man and one woman. Surely Romney is (and his followers are) aware that not too many generations ago his co-religionists did not consider a marriage to consist of one man and one woman (unless, of course, you are making the rather sophistical argument that each of a polygamist's marriages are between one man and one woman. But each woman was only allowed one marriage at a time while a man might have as many as he liked/could afford.)

How "hidden" was the practice of polygamy (or plural marriage as the LDS often referred to it)? The death of Smith was recorded in The New York Times of October 14, 1911. The last sentence of the obituary was Two wives, fifteen children, and eight grandchildren survive him.

Mitt Romney has, of course, a right to his own beliefs about the what marriage "should be" but, as it has been said elsewhere "you have a right to your own opinions but not a right to your own facts." It is not factually true that marriage has been called "a relationship between one man and one woman" for 6,000 years. Indeed in Utah it wasn't until President (of the LDS) Woodruff's manifesto of 1890 that Morman leadership stopped solemnizing plural marriages. Since those men who were already married to more than one woman were not called to separate from all but one the church leadership did not seem to be stating that those prior relationships had not been marriages and thus were acknowledging the fact that relationships that could be called marriages varied by place and time. If was, after all, not until 1904 the the leadership of the LDS issued a worldwide ban on plural marriage.

So, Mr. Romney, you have a right to your opinions, you have a right to your religion but you do not have a right to alter (or ignore) the historical record.


  1. 6,000 years would also put us into the Old Testament, where polygamy was fully acceptable.

  2. In Venice, marriage is between one city and one ocean.

    Pope Alexander III in 1177...drew a ring from his finger and, giving it to the doge, bade him cast such a one into the sea each year on Ascension Day, and so wed the sea.

    Every year the doge dropped a consecrated ring into the sea, and with the Latin words "Desponsamus te, mare, in signum veri perpetuique domini" ("We wed thee, sea, in the sign of the true and everlasting Lord")

  3. I hate, hate, HATE that tired canard about marriage definition being the same for 6,000 years. I can think of multiple cultures in multiple time periods and multiple settings that practiced marriage larger than that.

    It's just not even REMOTELY factual unless everything you know about history is from first grade. :(


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