A couple of years ago when Mormon polygamy marriages were top news I wrote a short story. As the campaigns of presidential candidates heat up, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s in the form of a newspaper article and offers a different take on polygamy called polyandry.
Mormonism for Women
Newtown-Utah. The real problem about polyandry, says Jennifer Lind, is managing so many husbands. “It’s exhausting. They can get pretty rowdy.” She should know. Lind, 39, has five of them.
On a sunny October day, she sits in the immaculate living room of her ranch house and discusses how her religion, which allows multiple marriages, is misunderstood. “People have this impression that I’m some sort of dominatrix standing over my husbands with a whip or something. It’s not like that at all,” she says, sipping tea handed to her by husband number four, J.J., 23. (His real name is Jeffrey but there already was a Jeffrey, husband number two.)
“We’re a family. Yes, I’m the head of the family but we all participate, we all belong.”
Her men agree. “People ask us about this all the time. They’re fixated,” laughs Kevin, 25, as he socks co-husband, Jeffrey, 28, playfully on the arm. Jeffrey grabs Kevin in a headlock. The two men glance adoringly at their wife who smiles at them then asks for another cup of tea.
Lind lives with her husbands and ten children in a five-bedroom home filled with bunk beds and sports equipment. “Yes, it can get cozy,” she admits. “but good cozy.”
To accommodate the crowd, they share three cars, stagger their bed and rising times, and eat and watch television in shifts. But they pray in one shift, congregating together in the living room and thanking God for her blessing.
Their religion, called Lessingism after their prophet Anna Mae Lessing who set up a commune in the area in the mid-1900’s, preaches that man must submit to woman because she is the source of all sustenance. She is provider of love, of education and, most importantly, of food.
“To be frank, it’s all about breasts,” says Lind. Lessingers believe woman to be the source of all good, a miniature God on earth, and instill in their children a reverence for the power of a woman’s body. Breastfeeding is the pinnacle of achievement.
It’s a distinction that some men in the church are uncomfortable with, suggesting that their orthodoxy is too narrow. “Well, they can fuss all they like,” says Lind “but if they don’t got ‘em, they don’t got ‘em. It’s biology, and you can’t argue with biology.”
As a result, men take a back seat in the leadership of the religion. But not in the donkey work. In 1955, Lessing took on another husband to help her with the care of her children. It was so successful she took on another and decided to write it into the covenant. Lessing died in 1997 at the age of 72, her sixth husband, 25-year-old Brandon Vier, at her side.
Lind turned to the little known religion when she was 26 years old. “I had been searching to find something that gave me a sense of community, that had values that were in keeping with what I thought was an ethical way to live. When I finally found it I had a sense of homecoming. Life suddenly made sense. It’s a belief system I hope to impart to my children.”
Her children, Tanya, 13, Jeff, 11, Jilly, 10, Rachel, 9, Bruce, 7, Billy, 6, Sarah, 5, Karen, 3, Ken 2 and Alicia, 4 months, are the product of her marriage to the five different men. When asked how she can tell who a child’s father is, she explains patiently about DNA testing. Before the tests, she says, husbands just had to take their wives’ word for it. And though technically speaking it’s illegal in this state to marry several men, Lind maintains that she is only exercising her freedom of religion.
“It’s not like we’re hurting anyone,” she says.” It’s all completely consensual.”
Kevin’s parents disagree. They were uncomfortable with their son’s decision to marry Lind and tried several times to talk him out of it. His father has gone as far as to bring a civil suit against Lind. “I think she is a corrupting factor,” Mr. Rogan says. “She gets them young when they don’t know any better.”
But Kevin is staunchly behind his wife. “My parents just don’t understand,” says Kevin who married Lind when he was a 20 year old college sophomore. “They think I’m living in the dark ages or something.” Kevin was a high school buddy of Jeffrey’s and was intrigued by Jeffrey’s marriage. “He just kept hanging around so much I finally decided to make an honest man out of him,” laughs Lind.
She met her last two husbands, J.J. and Richard, through their mothers, also Lessingers, who offered their sons as excellent marriage material. “They see the value of this system and so they brought up their sons to think accordingly.”
Lind marries her men in a private ceremony at home, attended only by close family, the co-husbands and the church’s leader, Mary Ann Garnett. “It’s a happy affair, Garnett says. “We make a big batch of chili and then the boys play tag football. Jennifer and I watch.”
Garnett, 45, who has been an elder in their church for 10 years, believes the polyandry is good for the children. “And that’s what’s important here more than any personal satisfaction.” She believes the practice lessens the burdens and frustration of the nuclear family. “It’s not that we have anything against nuclear families, we just think this is a better way to live.” Garnett herself has only two husbands. “They’re just about all I can handle.”
According to Professor Sarah Standish at City University, polyandry is a humane way to live. “When you think that one of today’s social problems is the rise of marginal men, it’s perfect. The practice incorporates men into strong families and gives them something to do. I think it’s the future of society.”
Lind sets down her cup of tea and readjusts baby Alicia at her breast. Her fifth husband, Richard, 22, is playing in the corner with the three toddlers. An ex-Sunday school teacher, he takes care of Ken, Karen, and Sarah and teaches them simple psalms and songs. Their little minds lap it up, he says smiling. “They really want to know their place in the world.” When asked if the boys are disappointed by their future as one of many husbands, Richard looks puzzled. “No. I certainly don’t teach it that way. And the girls, their sense of responsibility must be instilled as soon as possible.”
Next year Sarah will step up into Grant’s care. Grant, 35, is Lind’s first husband who she married when he was 23 and she was 27. He was a high school teacher at the time but gave up his work when Jeffrey joined the household. He now homeschools the eldest six in the old master bedroom which has been converted into an old fashioned school room complete with desks and white board. Grant teaches the older children the Notebook, which is the word of their prophet. “We are fundamental. We go strictly by the Notebook.”
While Lind feeds the children, her husbands support her by cooking, shopping, cleaning, babysitting and earning money outside the home. “I provide the grub,” she says, “and in turn they do their service.”
J.J. takes away Lind’s cup and retreats to the kitchen where he begins his daily task of cooking a wholesome lunch for sixteen. “Around lunch time things can get pretty hectic what with the kids’ play group schedules and some of the guys’ sports schedules. I try to anticipate any problems.”
He slides on his apron and gives a quick tour of the kitchen, showing off industrial sized pots and pans, a humongous salad bowl and a grill large enough to sear a horse. He is also in charge of the family’s laundry. He proudly shows off his late model washing machine that Lind bought for him last year. He twirls the bottle of bleach around his finger like a pistol. “Mess with my detergent and you’re dead,” he jokes.
Kevin and Jeffrey both work outside the home. Kevin as a computer analyst, Jeffrey as a pilot. As Jeffrey is away from home a lot he tries to make up for his absences by taking extra “marital satisfaction” shifts. “I read up on the latest orgasm techniques. And so far Jennifer seems pretty pleased. I like the lifestyle. I look at men in regular marriages and I think what pressure they have. They have to be on call every day. I get all this free time and yet I know I contribute to the whole. The guys and I have a really good time. And Jennifer, she’s great. Really relaxed, caring. She makes me feel…good about myself. Like I’m a valued member of the team.”
Richard, however, is a bit moody these days. Jennifer has decided to marry again. Her choice is Byron, 21, a male model, who will be joining the household next month.
“I figure we could use the extra income and well, he’ll certainly be easy on the eyes,” grins Jennifer who plans to have Byron continue his career. Richard frowns. Jeffrey nudges him playfully, explaining. “It’s always hardest for the last husband. You take it hard at first but then you lighten up.”
Because in the end, Lind says, their union works. If they didn’t like it, she maintains, her husbands wouldn’t stay.
The men nod philosophically.
“Whatcha gonna do?” says Kevin. “She’s the boss. It’s the way God intended it.”
Jeffrey gives him a high five.
photo by Bob auBuchon (flickr)