LDS splinter group practices polygamy, tries to avoid legal problems

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    By Justin Smith

    In 1890, Wilford Woodruff formally dismissed the law of polygamy in The Manifesto.

    Since then, the practice of plural marriage has not been practiced in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    But plural marriage is still practiced in a number of fundamentalist groups who broke off from the LDS Church. Because these groups are based within Utah, they are sometimes still associated with the LDS Church.

    One group, led by a man named Jim Harmston, practices polygamy as a basic fundamental principle.

    Harmston, founder of The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, has an estimated following of 400 baptized members, according to Matt Larson, an apostle in the True and Living Church. Harmston has 17 wives.

    The True and Living Church is based in Manti, where five to 10 percent of the members practice plural marriage, said Kent Braddy, another apostle.

    Gale Harmston, who became wife number four in July 1995, said she came to Manti to be part of “the gathering.”

    Gale was brought up in Phoenix and became active in the LDS Church when she was 24-years-old. She attended Arizona State University, where she earned a master”s degree in recreational therapy along with a bachelor”s degree in education.

    “I was married when I turned 26 in the Mesa (Arizona) Temple, but received a temple divorce a few years later,” said Gale, who later remarried and became sealed to her second husband in the same temple.

    “In January of 1994, my (second) husband and I joined a fundamentalist group in Montana, which practiced plural marriage. This is where I was introduced to the TLC (True and Living Church),” she said.

    After the divorce of her second husband, Gale found her way to Manti where she met Jim, her soon-to-be third husband.

    Sharing a husband with 16 other women can create some unique challenges.

    “Jealousy is definitely a weakness anyone struggles with in this type of situation. It”s part of the carnal man. Anyone who enters plural marriage will have to deal with jealousy . . . but now, my sister wives are my best friends,” she said.

    Gale said all her children are supportive. She has a son and a daughter who also practice polygamy. Her daughter has two children.

    Larson, a 22-year-old who has become the youngest apostle for The True and Living Church, does not practice plural marriage, but said he has plans on entering it in the future.

    “It”s all a matter of revelation and compatibility. Not all the women live together, some have other houses. It just depends on what”s best for the situation,” Larson said.

    In 1892, a territorial law in Utah first prohibited polygamy. The law was later adopted into Article III of the Utah Constitution of 1896. Today, it is prosecuted under bigamy charges.

    David Leavitt, a prosecuting attorney for Juab County, has been involved in a renowned effort for the law to take action against Tom Green, a practicing polygamist.

    Leavitt said part of the reason action is not taken against offenders of polygamy is because it is difficult to prove.

    “First, you must show that a person is legally married to certain individuals. This evidence is hard to provide because they (polygamists) don”t engage in civil marriages, so they don”t have a marriage license. The evidence must show when they entered into the relationship . . . whether it be marriage or cohabitation,” he said.

    If polygamists got marriage licenses and if the county attorneys got a hold of them, the case would have an obvious verdict, Leavitt said.

    Braddy, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the True and Living Church, said police can”t provide evidence against polygamy without a marriage certificate.

    “If you”re going to do it, don”t come up with the certificate,” he said.

    Certificate or not, Leavitt said he wants to see the courts take action against those in violation of the law.

    Leavitt is not the only County Attorney to prosecute under the law of bigamy. Prior to him, the most recent attempt came in Sevier County in 1998. Before that was Miller County in 1992.

    Leavitt estimates that a decision on his case won”t be reached until after the first of February.

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