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What is the Purpose of Plural Marriage?

by W. John Walsh

Latter-day Saint men can presently be married to only one living woman at a time.  However, from an eternal perspective, men may be sealed to more than one wife while women may only be sealed to one husband.  In other words, men may have more than one wife in heaven.  Why is this the case?  The primary reason for the practice of plural marriage is to raise up righteous seed unto God.  It is not for sexual gratification.   The Book of Mormon states:

"For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people [to practice plural marriage]; otherwise they shall [have only one wife.] (Jacob 2:30)

The bearing and raising of children is the center of LDS life from both a mortal and eternal perspective.  The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:

"....for [a man's wives] are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfill the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified." (D&C 132:63; See Eternal Lives; Eternal Increase)

Obviously, a greater number of children leads to greater opportunities to help others along the path to eternal life.  In speaking to LDS women against limiting their posterity by the use of birth control, President Spencer W. Kimball said:

"Come home, wives, to your children, born and unborn. Wrap the motherly cloak about you and, unembarrassed, help in a major role to create bodies for the immortal souls who anxiously wait." (See Birth Control)

Unfortunately, the number of righteous women always outnumbers the number of righteous men, even in the celestial kingdom.  President Brigham Young noted:

"If we could make every man upon the earth get him a wife, live righteously and serve God, we would not be under the necessity, perhaps, of taking more than one wife. But they will not do this; the people of God, therefore, have been commanded to take more wives." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.16, p.166 - p.167)

From a mortal perspective, this means that when a man is limited to only one wife, some women will have the choice of marrying a worldly, carnal man or remaining unwed.  If men were eternally limited to only one wife each, some women would never have the opportunity for exaltation.

Plural marriage remedies these penalties by enabling every woman the opportunity to have a righteous husband, enjoy the blessings of motherhood, and fill the measure of her creation.  The extraordinary sacrifices necessary upon all the participants in the practice of plural marriage also help to instill greater Christlike love within their characters.  Since we are talking about an eternal perspective, issues like mortal medical and fertility problems do not concern us. In eternity, we shall have perfect bodies with no disabilities.

Some people have suggested that allowing women to have more than one husband would fulfill some of the same objectives (e.g., allow every man the opportunity for marriage, build greater Christlike characters, etc.) However, those making this suggestion miss two vital points:

First, as mentioned above, since the number of righteous women always outnumbers the number of righteous men, this means even more women would be unable to procure a righteous husband, if some women had more than one.  Second, it would not help God raise up righteous seed, which was noted above as the purpose of plural marriage.   Common sense tells us that a woman with several husbands will not have any more children than a women with only one husband.  On the other hand, a man with several wives will have more children than a man with only one wife.  It is the natural order of things.  For example, it would not be unusual for a man with five wives to have 25 children.  On the other hand, it would be somewhat difficult for one woman to duplicate this effort regardless of how many husbands she acquired.

If sexual gratification were the primary purpose of marriage and sex (i.e., Satan's perspective), then a woman having multiple husbands would be the preferred method from a biological perspective.  On the other hand, as noted above, if the primary purpose of marriage and sex is forming families and rearing children, then the Lord's plan is the most efficient way (i.e., most children per husband).

Occasionally, I have met people, both men and women, who have objected to the sacrifices required by plural marriage.  To put it simply, many women don't look forward to sharing their husbands emotionally, spiritually, or physically.  Many men don't look forward to supporting multiple families emotionally, spiritually, or physically.  To help people understand the goodness of plural marriage, I have used a simple techninque which almost always works:

For Women:

<Woman>  I hate plural marriage and will never accept it!
<Responder> Let me ask you a question.  You are close to your sister, are you not?
<Woman> Yes, we grew up together, and now that we are grown, we love to call and visit one another.
<Responder>  What if your sister were in a situation in which she had no hope of a righteous marriage partner unless she were to live the law of plural marriage?   The only way she could enjoy the blessings of marriage and children would be if she was taken as a plural wife.  Would you let her live single, knowing that she wants marriage and family, while enjoying your own marriage and children?  Furthermore, would you stand in the way of her being sealed for eternity to a righteous man and risk her marrying a man would is faithless and lose her exaltation?  Or would you change your mind about plural marriage and let her marry your husband?
<Woman> Well, I would hate to watch her suffer.  I love her too much for that.   And I would feel terrible if she married outside of the covenant, just because I refused to let her marry my husband.  I guess we have such a good relationship that I would not mind so much under those circumstances. 
<Responder> Since you can see that plural marriage would be acceptable in some circumstances, what makes other circumstances different?  What if your best friend were in that situation instead of your sister?  Could you accept plural marriage to help your best friend receive these important blessings?
<Woman> I love my best friend too.  It wouldn't be so bad to have her in my household.  We could have so much fun together.  I guess that would be okay too.   But I wouldn't just do it for anybody.
<Responder> Why did you draw that line?  You know that people asked to live the principle of plural marriage are righteous people, so you know that your husband's plural wife would not be wicked.  She would be trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.   Should not all of your gospel sisters be truly loved as sisters and friends?   Could you let some women suffer and deny them marriage and children, while letting others enjoy the blessings you enjoy?  What does that say about your own Christ-like feelings and behaviors?

For Men:

<Man>  I could never accept plural marriage!  The whole idea is repugnant to me.
<Responder> Let me ask you a question.  Do you love your family?
<Man> Of course I do.  I'm close to all of my family. 
<Responder>  How would you feel if your sister or daughter could not find a righteous husband?  The only way they could receive the blessings of marriage and family with a righteous man is if they were to live the principle of plural marriage. Now, what if they would only do it if you accepted the marriage?  Would you still reject plural marriage, denying your sister or your daughter the blessings of righteous family life?  Would you risk letting them marry a faithless man just so they could have marriage and family, rather than living singly and alone?  Or would you accept their plural marriages?
<Man> Well, those are pretty stark circumstances.  But, if that were to ever happen, I would be grateful that they had a righteous husband, regardless.
<Responder> Now, what if your wife's sister were in the same circumstance.   What if your wife came to you and told you of her sister's longing for a husband and children, how she loved the Lord, and how she could not find a righteous husband and feared she may never marry in this world.  Then your wife were to ask you to consider marrying her sister, someone she loved so much and suffered watching her suffer, so that her sister could receive the blessings she desired.  Could you reject such a plea?
<Man> I never thought my own wife would make such a request, but I can see why she would in such circumstances.  If she felt that way about it, I guess I could not refuse her sister's desire for righteous family.
<Responder> Now, what if your wife came to you and told you about her best friend in the same circumstance.  Could you reject this woman's righteous desires?
<Man> No, I guess I could not.
<Responder> Now, if you would do this for someone that you and your wife both had great love for, why is plural marriage so repugnant?  Do you think that you would not love a righteous woman who desired husband and children and loved the Lord?
<Man> When you put it that way, I think I would love her, or learn to love her.   But there's still issues to consider:  personality conflicts, having so many children that I couldn't provide for them, not having enough time for everyone, I have a hard enough time just pleasing my own family.
<Responder> If marriage is a way we prepare for eternal life, would more family life help you prepare even better?  I think so.  Personality conflicts can be overcome through righteous living, repentence, forgiveness, and patience.  Large families help you prioritize your time, money, and efforts.  You can't waste time doing things of little worth.  You must spend your time focusing on raising your family, teaching them how to work and about the Gospel.  The traits you develop in this family can only further your development as you strive to become more like the Father of us all.
<Man> I never thought about it that way.  I thought plural marriage was mostly about sex, but I can see it is actually designed to make us more like our heavenly parents.

If you are someone who objects to plural marriage, then I would challenge you to search within yourselves.  There is no doubt in my mind that your attitude towards plural marriage will determine your place in eternity.  President Brigham Young warned:

"Now, where a man in this Church says, "I don't want but one wife, I will live my religion with one," he will perhaps be saved in the celestial kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all. He has had a talent that he has hid up. He will come forward and say, "Here is that which thou gavest me, I have not wasted it, and here is the one talent," and he will not enjoy it, but it will be taken and given to those who have improved the talents they received, and he will find himself without any wife, and he will remain single for ever and ever. But if the woman is determined not to enter into a plural marriage, that woman when she comes forth will have the privilege of living in single blessedness through all eternity." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.16, p.166 - p.167)

(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page; Plural Marriage home page; Teachings About Marriage home page)

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