Smith and polyandry
The other day I saw this video where a church group of women went around dressed as the plural wives of the LDS Prophet, Joseph Smith. All of the women had signs around their necks and they would tell a story of that particular wife of Joseph in the first person. In my mind this was a feeble attempt to expose Joseph as a so-called "immoral womanizer."
One of the things that caught my eye was the fact that they were selling the notion that Joseph was polyandrous in his marriages and there have been many thoughts on the subject throughout the history if the church on exactly what went down.
My first intention is to educate people on the many layers of early Mormon marriages and what they constituted. There were several reasons why people in the Mormon church married multiple wives. One might automatically assume that it was all about sexual drive. But there is much more to married life than sexual relations with one another. If you were to ask the modern day married man if he thought a polygamous relationship seemed like fun, a serious answer might be that marriage to a single woman is hard enough without two females ganging up on you. (That's what I would say anyhow.)
So there were actually several reasons that the average Mormon family would come together in the bonds of matrimony.
-Convenience; In what might seem like a polyandrous relationship, the function of this marriage to Mormons at times would be to impregnate a woman due to the fact that her previous husband was unable to provide a child. In this case the woman would temporarily get divorced and marry another man, the two would consummate and as soon as the woman was impregnated she would divorce and return to her original husband. The two would then raise a child together. When looking from the outside this kind of activity might seem credulous, especially to the mind of church skeptics, however the medical practices of the day weren't advanced enough (as it is so common in our day,) to artificially impregnate a woman who so desperately yearned for a child but had no other way.
-Sealing; Much like the old fashioned form of arranged marriage, there were times when two families wanted to be bonded together through marriage, and sometimes a marriage might be performed with a girl who would be looked at as a minor in our day. I will note that in some of the early days of US census taking in the 1850's and 60's there were families which it is evident that the woman was much younger than the man, even in non-Mormon households. Though if a man were to undergo such a relationship there was a set age by which the two were allowed to consummate the marriage, and more often than not when the woman reached the correct age, the relationship was never consummated and she would wind up finding another man whom she wanted to marry.
In the case of Joseph Smith, alot of people wanted their families to have an eternal bond with their prophet, the act of sealing in this case would be more ritualistic than physical. Though some people such as the author Fawn Brodie made speculation that Joseph did have sexual relations with all of the women he was sealed to. The looming fact that all of his children were mothered only by his first wife Emma shows otherwise, and since there was no form of birth control in that day the possibility of having children with other women would have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had sexual relations with them.
Please note that I am not trying to suggest that Joseph only copulated with Emma, but there is not much evidence that he had regular relations with the other wives. Not only this but several of them ended up being married to other members of the church later in life. Speaking of the women who were already married to other men, it is important to note that all of them continued to live with their first husbands. All of them were married to men who were good friends of Joseph's, and they remained friends until he died. Those who had non member spouses and yet were sealed to Joseph remained with their husbands, the want for an eternal bond with the church did not negate the value of their mortal relations with their husbands.
Differing beliefs; It is a common factor that in many marriages the husband and wife have differing religious beliefs. In this case a woman who believes in the doctrine of eternal marriage and is bonded to a husband who did not, had the opportunity to be sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Since the Mormon doctrine of Exhaltation dictates that a person cannot be exhalted in the celestial kingdom without being sealed to a spouse for eternity, there was provided a way for them to retain a civil marriage with their origional spouse without literally practicing polygamy, and still be able to partake in all of the ordinances of LDS doctrine.
Suspected children; Speculations that Joseph fathered children by the other wives have been recently put to rest by innovations in DNA testing which has proven that none of their children were fathered by Joseph.
One of the facits of the restoration of the gospel was to bring back the old testament practice of polygamy, this form of marriage existed well before God introduced the law to Moses, along with several other standing laws such as tithing, the sacrament, and prepetuation of priesthood authority. In most cases Ploygamy has never worked out well this is why I regard it as a higher law and perhaps one that can only be sucessful on a celestial level. It is inaccurate to lable the relations that Joseph Smith had with the women he was sealed to, "Polyandry" given the terms of those sealings, I believe that when we put off this mortal corruption, mankind will be inhibited with a pure knowledge and advanced form of understanding, and family relations will be perfected throughout the eterinties. In such a state the minds of men and women will be holy and venerable, with an eye single to the rightousness and glory of God the father, and his son Jesus Christ.