The LDS Church teaches that its practice of polygamy or plural marriage ended over a century ago, that it is no longer practiced, and that any member who does so will be excommunicated.
But it is little discussed that plural marriage seems to be standard procedure in the sealing (marriage) policies in the temples of the Church today. Plural marriage continues in living divorced couples (oddly) and in the afterlife, it would seem, but the Church says nothing on this point.
The reason for the little discussion seems to be because the policies are somewhat hidden away in Handbook 1 of the Church, which only some ecclesiastical leaders have access to. Anyone can Google and find this book online, and of course, anyone who has had a divorce or a spouse pass away and has wanted to get married again (sealed) has experienced these policies first hand. These things are not hidden, but the Church seems to pretend they are.
I will quote here, by fair use copyright law, the relevant sections from the latest 2010 edition of Handbook 1, which discusses what happens after divorce of a spouse (page 20):
Sealing of Living Members after Divorce
Women. A living woman may be sealed to only one husband. If she is sealed to a husband and later divorces, she must receive a cancellation of that sealing from the First Presidency before she may be sealed to another man in her lifetime (see “Applying for a Cancellation of Sealing or a Sealing Clearance” below).
Men. If a husband and wife have been sealed and later divorced, the man must receive a sealing clearance from the First Presidency before another woman may be sealed to him (see “Applying for a Cancellation of Sealing or a Sealing Clearance” below). A sealing clearance is necessary even if (1) the previous sealing has been canceled or (2) the divorced wife is now deceased.
You’ll notice the difference in language between a woman and a man. If a woman has a divorce, she must seek a “cancellation” of that sealing before she can be sealed to another man. It also makes a clear distinction that a “living woman may be sealed to only one husband,” language which is absent from the men’s paragraph. If a man has a divorce, he must seek a “clearance” before he can be sealed to another woman. The inference is that women must have their original sealing “canceled,” meaning no longer in effect, done away with, nullified, but a man just needs it “cleared” for him to be sealed to another woman. His original sealing may still be in place, in effect, and continue on (unless his former wife gets a cancellation). His second sealing therefore seems to constitute a plural marriage. In the eyes of the Church it seems he is now sealed (married) to two women. And this can continue for subsequent divorces and sealings, such that a man may be sealed, divorced and cleared, and then sealed, divorced and cleared, and thus be sealed (married) to multiple women.
What happens after the death of a spouse? Page 20 continues:
Sealing of Living Members after a Spouse’s Death
Women. A living woman may be sealed to only one husband.
Men. If a husband and wife have been sealed and the wife dies, the man may have another woman sealed to him if she is not already sealed to another man. In this circumstance, the man does not need a sealing clearance from the First Presidency unless he was divorced from his previous wife before she died (see the previous heading for the policy in cases of divorce).
The policy for a woman is short and concise, repeating verbatim what was noted in the previous section, but without any exception of cancellation. If she is sealed to a man, and he dies, she may not be sealed (married) to anyone else. Ever. Period. But for a man the situation is different. If he is sealed to a woman, and she dies, he may be sealed to another woman (as long as she’s not sealed to anyone else). He doesn’t even need extra permission. His second sealing seems to constitute a plural marriage. In the eyes of the Church it seems he is now sealed (married) to two women, and will have both as his wives in the afterlife. And this can continue for subsequent deaths of the man’s spouses and new sealings with other women.
I don’t know how else these policies can be interpreted, except that plural marriage (polygamy) is alive and well within the Church, both on Earth between civilly divorced couples and in the afterlife, although shrouded within temple sealing policies and practices such that no plural marriages are actually practiced on Earth. The couples so sealed are either no longer civilly married to each other (but may still be living), or the wife has died. From a civil standpoint, there is only one man and one woman ever married to each other at the same time. But from the viewpoint of the Church, on Earth and in the afterlife, the “eternities,” a man seems to be able to be sealed (married) to multiple women.
The Church doesn’t discuss this at all. I’ve never heard it mentioned in official sources, except, of course, in D&C 132 where the principles of plural marriage are canonized as scripture.
So the Church continues downplaying plural marriage as something in its far distant past, something that it has gotten over, something that was done long ago, but doesn’t have any place within the Church today. But such talk seems disingenuous at best, and deceptive at worst.
Meanwhile the Church continues to teach and expound that marriage is between one man and one woman. Just yesterday the Church published the following in its response to the religious freedom and LGBT rights legislation that was recently passed in Utah:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains strongly committed to marriage between a man and a woman as the only marriage consistent with the laws of God.
That grammatical article “a” carries with it a lot of meaning. Does the Church really believe that marriage is between “a man and a woman”? Is that really the “only marriage consistent with the laws of God”? Then what is going on in the temples today? The Church’s policies and practices in the temple seem to speak otherwise.
This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture, and the Church is not at liberty to change it.
Except that D&C 132 teaches that plural marriage is a commandment and doctrine too. And the Church did seem to change it. At one time it advocated, taught, and practiced polygamy, and now it says it doesn’t, but as we’ve seen, it still seems to practice it, just not in any civilly incriminating way.
Proposition 8 provided an opportunity for Church members to stand for the principle of marriage between a man and a woman. The Church is grateful for the thousands of Church members and many others who worked so hard and sacrificed so much for that principle and who made a difference in California affirming marriage as we have known it for centuries.
Has the Church known this principle of marriage, of one man and one woman, for centuries? The Church practiced polygamy for the entire last half of the nineteenth century, which was only one century ago, and it seems to continue to practice plural marriage (polygamy) by sealing practices within the temple today.
The irony seems to be lost on the Church who today has such a strong voice in limiting the marriage practices of others while itself suffered intense persecution for its own deviant marriage practices a century ago, and which it still seems to practice in hushed tones within its temples today. If we claim the “privilege of [marrying] according to the dictates of our own conscience,” it seems we would do well to “allow all men [and women] the same privilege, let them [marry] how, where, or what they may” (Article of Faith 11).
Or are sealings (marriages) not considered a part of our “worship” practices? As far as I’ve always known, marriage (sealing) has been an important rite within Mormon worship practice, critically important to one’s exaltation in the highest kingdom of heaven, and we have claimed our right to practice it how we may, at least until the government steps in and challenges us otherwise. In the mid to late 1800s if the government had tried to rule that polygamous marriages were not really “marriage” at all, I’m sure the Church would have intensely resisted such actions to the point of dissolution. The irony is that they did, and we did.
What is perhaps even most unexpected about all of this is that if plural marriages (polygamy) continues in the Church today, then that implies that, even right now, that there are living women in the Church who are in same-sex marriages; they are in sealed marriages with other women who are also sealed to their ex-husband, and they don’t even know it.
Do I doubt the Church’s teachings on marriage? I do.