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Utah Polygamist Tom Green with Family of Five Wives

Utah Polygamist Tom Green with Family of Five Wives


By: Anonymous

Date: April 2000

Source: Getty Images.

About the Photographer: This photograph was submitted by the defense in the polygamy trial of Tom Green in May 2001, and is part of the archives of Getty Images, a provider of imagery and film to communications professionals around the world.


Polygamy refers to the marriage of one person to more than one other person at the same time, or multiple, simultaneous marriages. Polyandry is the technical term for one woman who has more than one husband concurrently; polygny is the word used for one man with multiple wives. Polyamory is when one person has multiple significant relationship partners simultaneously, but is not necessarily married to any of them. Bigamy occurs when one person has two spouses at the same time, trigamy is the case when there are three concurrent spouses associated with one individual. Group marriage is said to occur when two or more couples marry one another and jointly manage a household, raise children and share responsibilities.

Historically, the state of Utah and the Mormon Church (correctly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and also called LDS) are both associated with the concept of polygamy. However, in 1890, the Mormon Church officially discontinued the practice of polygamy, and has been excommunicating members who practice it. In the state of Utah, legislation bans the practice, although there are numerous geographic areas in which groups of communities whose members practice polygamy quietly exist. It is not uncommon for members of some polygamous families to engage in criminal activities such as domestic, spousal, sexual, or child abuse.

One religious polygamist splinter group in Utah refers to itself as a Fundamentalist Mormon sect. This is emphatically denied by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which asserts that there are no sects in which polygamy is allowed or condoned. Likewise, they deny the existence of any fundamentalists cadres within the main body of the LDS church. The Mormon church acknowledges that there are polygamous sects in society, and that there are factions that split off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after the death of founder Joseph Smith, but assert that there are not connections, either spiritual or philosophic, between the smaller groups and the current LDS Church.

In recent years, the concept of polygamy has come to the attention of the American public both through the open admission and media attention of Tom Green, an admitted polygamist who has stated that he has five wives and at least thirty children, and through the fictional account of polygamy portrayed in the Home Box Office original television series Big Love. The latter describes the life and times of a contemporary (fictional) polygamist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with three wives (who live, conveniently, in three adjacent houses) and seven children. His character is descended from polygamous parents who live in a polygamous community, and are members of a fundamentalist spiritual sect (one of the central tenets of which is the practice of polygamy).



See primary source image.


In contemporary LDS culture, the practice of plural marriage (another term for polygamy) is referred to as "The Principle." A significant part of the reason that the contemporary practice of polygamy has achieved media status has had much to do with allega-tions of criminal activity involving sexual relationships and marriage with underage individuals (typically females), incest, and child neglect or abuse in the polygamous community. Among the strongest allegations against Tom Green in his polygamy case had to do with engaging in "spiritual marriages" and sexual relationships with young girls who were below the legal age of consent in Utah. Others concerned his failure to adequately materially provide for all of the needs of his thirty children and several households (he and his large family lived on a compound in a remote area of Juab County, Utah, that he had dubbed "Greenhaven").

Among those who practice polygamy and speak openly about their lives, most consider it an integral part of their spiritual and religious belief system and, therefore, existing outside of the boundaries of legislation. It is difficult to obtain an accurate accounting of persons living in polygamous (including polyandry, polyamory and polygyny) relationships in America, as very few people are willing to openly admit being a part of a cultural group that is illegal across the country, but news reports published during the trial of Tom Green estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 people live in polygamous households, primarily located in Southwestern states, particularly Utah and Arizona.

As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was originally constituted and practiced by Brigham Young, plural marriages were condoned, and were, in fact, considered necessary for the achievement of the highest blessings of heaven, according to tenets espoused by Church founder Joseph Smith. The practice of polygamy was outlawed by the Church when the federal government legislated against it and made the banning of polygamy a requirement for all territories wishing to achieve statehood. In an effort to expedite admission to the Union, (then) Church President Wilford Woodruff declared polygamy against Mormon doctrine in 1890, several years before Utah was admitted to American statehood, and stated that the practice of polygamy would result in excommunication from the LDS Church.

Several anti-polygamy groups have been formed by former members of polygamous families. Former members related incidents to authorities of teenage boys being cast out of the group to make more young girls available for marriage to the group's older men. Girls are married as young as twelve years of age, and seldom are allowed to complete a high school education.

Tom Greene was eventually convicted of four counts of bigamy and one count of child rape for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl who he claimed was his "spiritual wife." Green was sentenced to two five-year sentences in federal prison. In May 2006, the leader of a larger polygamist sect, Warren Jeff, was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Ten Most-Wanted List, amid charges of bigamy and sexual relations with children. The FBI has issued a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.



Bennion, Janet. Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary Mormon Polygyny. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Bradley, Martha Sonntag. Kidnapped From That Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1993.

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Kern, Louis J. An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias—the Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1981.

Moore-Emmett, Andrea. God's Brothel: The Extortion of Sex for Salvation in Contemporary Mormon and Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy and the Stories of 18 Women Who Escaped. San Francisco: Pince-Nez Press, 2004.

Web sites "Is Honeymoon Over for Bigamy?" April 23, 2000. 〈〉 (accessed May 14,2006).

Tapestry Against Polygamy. "Polygamy Background Information.". 〈〉 (accessed May 14,2006).

The Principle. "Green Prosecutors Clash on Many Fronts." April 22, 2002. 〈 (verified link)〉 (accessed May 14, 2006).

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