FACTBOX: Polygamists in the United States

Reuters/November 20, 2007

U.S. polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed "prophet" of a sect of breakaway Mormons, was sentenced on Tuesday to 10 years to life in prison for having forced a 14-year-old to marry her first cousin.

Following are some facts on modern polygamists and the FLDS, the largest-known U.S. polygamist sect:

  • The FLDS is a break-away sect from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon faith is formally known. The Mormon faith officially banned polygamy in 1890 when the federal government threatened to deny statehood to Utah.
  • The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, took at least two dozen wives, historians say. His successor, Brigham Young, had about 20. Today, the Mormon church distances itself from about 40,000 breakaway Mormons in Utah and Arizona who practice polygamy illegally.
  • In Utah, polygamy is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, but the law is rarely enforced because local authorities say prosecuting "plural" marriages is impractical. Instead, authorities in Utah and Arizona have been targeting sex crimes, welfare and tax fraud and domestic violence within polygamous communities.
  • Members of the FLDS are estimated to number about 7,500 and live in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona, an isolated community along the Utah-Arizona border. FLDS members believe the highest stages of heaven can be attained only after a man takes three wives, while women are brought up to be subservient. Those who disagree with the prophet are labeled "apostates" and exiled.

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