Meet my wives

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Can polygamy ever work for the women in­volved? Jane Mulk­er­rins goes to Utah to find out

Abel has three wives; Enoch has two, but he’s en­gaged to a third. Can polygamy ever work? And what’s in it for the women? Jane Mulk­er­rins goes to Utah to investigat­e. Pho­to­graphs by Vance Ja­cobs

Ev­ery third night, Ma­rina Mor­ri­son forces her­self not to go to bed un­til af­ter 1am. Other wise, she risks hav­ing to hear her hus­band, Abel, mak­ing love to another woman in the apart­ment up­stairs, in a bed­room di­rectly above her own. ‘It’s a real strug­gle for me,’ 23-year-old Ma­rina freely ad­mits .‘ But I’m try­ing to over­come my in se­cu­rity and move for­ward .’

While Ma­rina may find the sit­u­a­tion chal­leng­ing, it is also what she has signed up for; she is Abel’s third wife, and shares him with her ‘sis­ter wives’, Suzie, 36, who lives up­stairs, and Beth, 37, who has the apart­ment next door.

The Mor­risons – four adults and 12 chil­dren – live to­gether at Rock­land Ranch, a com­mu­nity of 15 fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon fam­i­lies, al­most half of whom prac­tise polygamy, in a re­mote cor­ner of Utah. The Rock, as it is known, was founded in the 1970s by Bob Fos­ter, a teacher who had three wives and fa­thered 38 chil­dren. Af­ter he was re­leased from jail for polygamy, he chose the Rock as a refuge for fel­low fun­da­men­tal­ists to prac­tise their faith. To­day, it is home to more than 100 peo­ple, many of them his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

The colour­ful, cave-like houses are built into holes, blasted by dy­na­mite, in the wave-shaped sand­stone rock, and can be ex­tended should fam­i­lies grow, as they tend to here. Back in Bob Fos­ter’s days, the com­mu­nity was primitive, with un­re­li­able gen­er­a­tor power, and no flush­ing toilets or run­ning wa­ter. Nowa­days, how­ever, it could be mist a ken for a hip­ster eco-utopia. As we ap­proach the Rock, ris­ing up from the red earth at the end of an un­marked cin­der road far from the main high­way, from a dis­tance we see a vast bank of so­lar pan­els. The com­mu­nity aims to be self-suf­fi­cient, gen­er­at­ing its own power sup­ply and grow­ing much of its own food – there’s an enor­mous green­house, and a farm with chick­ens and cows.

Not all the pro­duce is for im­me­di­ate con­sump­tion. Fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mons be­lieve that the Apoca­lypse is com­ing, and it is an ar­ti­cle of faith to be pre­pared – all the fam­i­lies at the Rock have cel­lars f illed with food to last t hree and a half years, and firearms, in case the com­mu­nity is at­tacked; on top of the Rock is a watch­tower.

Mor­mon fun­da­men­tal­ists be­lieve that plu­ral mar­riage, or ‘liv ing t he Prin­ci­ple’, helps t hem come closer to God by be­com­ing more self­less, over­com­ing the hu­man strug­gles with jeal­ousy and in­se­cu­rity, and learn­ing to put oth­ers be­fore them­selves. The prac­tice wasn’t al­ways il­le­gal: an orig inal tenet of mainst ream Mor­monism, polygamy was only out­lawed in 1890, as part of the terms un­der which Utah – where 60 per cent of Amer­ica’s Mor­mon pop­u­la­tion still lives – was recog­nised as an of­fi­cial Amer­i­can state (it had pre­vi­ously only been a ter­ri­tor y). To­day, claim­ing mul­ti­ple wives is pun­ish­able by five years in prison, and most po­lyg­a­mists in the US there­fore keep their plu­ral mar­riages se­cret.

‘If I sim­ply kept mis­tresses, the law could not touch me,’ points out Enoch Fos­ter, 38, one of Bob’s sons and the un­of­fi­cial leader of Rock­land Ranch. ‘But be­cause I want my re­la­tion­ships to be le­git­i­mate, I want to look af­ter my wives, I can be pros­e­cuted for it.

‘I’m not de­mand­ing that ev­ery­one ac­cept me,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘But I do be­lieve plu­ral mar­riage be­tween con­sent­ing adults should be our right; we should be treated equally un­der the law.’ To t hat end, t he res­i­dent s of t he Rock have con­sented to be­come t he sub­ject s of a fou r-pa r t doc­u­men­tary, cur­rently air­ing on Chan­nel 4.

Most Mor­mon fun­da­men­tal­ists also be­lieve in creat­ing a ‘fam­ily king­dom’ on earth, and Enoch is cer­tainly do­ing his bit. He has two wives, Ca­t­rina, 37, and Lil­lian, 30, and a to­tal of 18 chil­dren. Lil­lian is cur­rently preg­nant with his 19th, and in May, he will marry his third wife, 24-year-old Ly­dia.

At the Fos­ter fam­ily home, one of the largest at the Rock, Ca­t­rina and her 11 chil­dren live up­stairs, while Lil­lian and her seven live down­stairs. When Ly­dia ar­rives, she will take the guest wing. Enoch, who cur­rently splits his nights be­tween his two wives and their two apart­ments, will ro­tate be­tween the three wives in or­der.

Most of the rock-ceilinged houses have Wifi – the pass­word at the Fos­ter house­hold is the ad­mo­ni­tion ‘use it for good’ – but some fam­i­lies are stricter than oth­ers about the con­sump­tion of pop­u­lar cul­ture. Cary Knecht, 43, and his wife, Anna, 45, who is Enoch’s sis­ter, are at the more con­ser­va­tive end of the spec­trum, and their eight chil­dren, aged four to 22, have been raised with strict lim­its on their ac­cess to main­stream me­dia. ‘I don’t like row­di­ness – it makes my kids have a lot of at­ti­tude,’ says Anna. Madonna is banned, as are Michael Jack­son, the Rolling Stones and El­ton John. Dis­ney films are also not shown in their home, as Car y be­lieves they con­tain mes­sages about witch­craft, magic and sor­cery.

In­side Lil­lian’s apart­ment, where the walls are adorned with re­li­gious af­fir­ma­tions such as ‘Prayer is the an­swer’, and ‘Fam­ily – where life be­gins and love never ends’, 11-year-old Faith is feed­ing nine-month-old Adeni­jah. Out­side in the

Enoch has break­fast with the per­son he stayed with, and din­ner with the per­son he is stay­ing with that night

enor­mous front yard, a tribe of tiny blonde chil­dren play on a tram­po­line; though the wives each have sep­a­rate apart­ments, child­care – and, in the Fos­ters’ case, also home-school­ing – is com­mu­nal. Lil­lian and I sit on the pa­tio, where chick­ens and cats min­gle. Ca­t­rina, fresh-faced, joins us, car­ry­ing her youngest, No­ble, just two months old.

‘I never thought, grow­ing up, that I would live a plu­ral mar­riage,’ she says. She was not raised in a fam­ily that prac­tised polygamy. She met Enoch when she was just 14, and he was 15. They mar­ried when she was 18, much aga inst her pa rents’ wishes. ‘I fell in love with Enoch more and more. He was such a good dad, and an amaz­ing provider;

he had so much to of­fer, and I wanted some­body else to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence that.’ It was she who sug­gested both Lil­lian and Ly­dia join the fam­ily.

With more than a decade of plu­ral mar­riage un­der their belts, the Fos­ters appear to have a smoothly run­ning rou­tine. Ca­t­rina and Lil­lian share a postal de­liv­ery round – when one is nurs­ing a new baby, t he ot her works – and have a struc­tured do­mes­tic sched­ule. ‘Enoch will have break­fast with the per­son he stayed with the pre­vi­ous night, and will have lunch and din­ner with the per­son he is stay­ing with that com­ing night,’ Lil­lia n ex pla ins. Enoch doesn’t have his own bed­room. Where does he leave all his stuff, I ask? ‘Ev­ery­where,’ Lil­lian dead­pans.

‘That’s the tough­est thing, the prospect of less time with him,’ she says of Ly­dia’s im­pend­ing ar­rival. ‘Even as a wife, I some­times feel as if I need to take a num­ber and get in line.’ Ca­t­rina, breast­feed­ing No­ble, seems serene about the com­ing changes. Do first wives, I ask, feel more se­cure? ‘Not al­ways. I still strug­gle with the fear of be­ing re­placed,’ she ad­mits. ‘But that is what plu­ral mar­riage is about. It forces you to con­front those emo­tional chal­lenges that you are, by na­ture, prone to strug­gle with the very most.’

While it is an un­apolo­get­i­cally pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety – the com­mu­nity coun­cil at the Rock, which meets monthly, is made up en­tirely of men – sis­ter-wives are not the op­pressed, slave-like breed­ing ma­chines in prairie skirts of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, but thought­ful women, who have made a choice to live this way. And though life here can seem chaotic to those of us used to small, nu­clear fam­i­lies, it also seems joy­ful and lov­ing.

Enoch – who man­ages all the hous­ing con­str uc­tion at the Rock – ar­rives home for his lunch break, kisses both of his wives in turn, and joins us in the yard. Im­me­di­ately, mul­ti­ple small chil­dren clam­ber on to him. In con­trast to his wives, he looks older and more care­worn than his 38 years.

‘I know that plu­ral mar­riage gets viewed as some­thing that is easy for the man and hard for the women,’ he says. ‘But as a man, you are faced with the ques­tion: can I emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally, prac­ti­cally take care of t his in­creas­ing litt le fam­ily king­dom? It puts you face-to-face with a man’s deep­est fears and in­se­cu­ri­ties: maybe I can’t do it.’

There is also the del­i­cate mat­ter of mul­ti­ple sex ual re­lat ion­ships, which present a level of pres­sure. ‘I dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween sex and love­mak­ing,’ says Enoch. ‘Sex is in­ter­course, and you can do it with any­one. Love-mak­ing is two souls bond­ing, cher­ish­ing each other, cel­e­brat­ing each ot her, re­spect­ing each ot her,’ he says. ‘I st r ive very hard not to have sex but to make love.’

His el­dest daugh­ter, 18-year-old Tianna, brings lunch to her par­ents. Col­lege isn’t on the cards for the Fos­ter chil­dren. ‘Ca­reer isn’t our first fo­cus. Hap­pi­ness, joy, re­la­tion­ships are,’ says Enoch.

In­deed, Tianna and her sis­ter Cher­ish, 16, are both al­ready of­fi­cially ‘court­ing’, the pre­lude to mar­riage in the fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon com­mu­nity. It is an old-fash­ioned sys­tem, with boys ask­ing a fa­ther for his per­mis­sion to get to know his daugh­ter. Sex be­fore mar­riage is frowned upon.

There are an es­ti­mated 38,000 Mor­mon fun­da­men­tal­ists in Utah, Enoch tells me, but partly in or­der to en­sure that the po­ten­tial mat­ing pool does not shrink too small, ev­ery sum­mer there is a‘ rally’ at the Rock, a four-day so­cial event at­tended by 300-500 fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mons from Ari­zona, Mis­souri, Mex­ico and Canada.

Even with plenty of op­tions, the lo­gis­tics of plu­ral mar­riage would be enough to deter many. Abel Mor­ri­son, who splits his time be­tween three apart­ments in one prop­erty, car­ries a man-bag at all times, con­tain­ing a tooth­brush, de­odor­ant, his phone charg­ers and his run­ning kit, among other es­sen­tials. ‘If I had to search ev­ery house for it ev­ery day, I would never ac­tu­ally run,’ he laughs.

He and his first wife, Suzie, met as teenagers. Both had grown up in polyg­a­mous fam­i­lies close to Salt Lake City. ‘I didn’t want to marry any­one who did not care to live plu­ral mar­riage,’ says Suzie, a trainee nurse. Just 18 months into their mar­riage, Suzie sug­gested that her friend Beth – who had also grown up in a polyg­a­mous fam­ily – might join them, and then, five years ago, t hat Ma­rina, t hen just 18, might be a suit able can­di­date to ex­pand their fam­ily fur­ther.

‘The f irst year was hell,’ Ma­rina says, wit h im­pres­sive can­dour. ‘I hear that the first year of any mar­riage is hard, but I was deal­ing with my hus­band hav­ing t wo ot her re­lat ion­ships, and loads of kids al­ready. I wasn’t able to have that newly-wed time with him, and I was re­ally young. I had all th­ese emo­tions and I didn’t know how to process the stuff I was go­ing through.

‘I would text Abel while he was on his reg­u­lar date night with Beth or Suzie, and that would cause prob­lems,’ she re­calls. ‘I re­ally re­gret that now, but I couldn’t grasp how he could love me equally when he was al­ready lov­ing two other women.’

Moth­er­hood has helped. ‘I didn’t think I could love any­one as much as I loved my daugh­ter,’ she re­calls. Ni­cole is now two and a half. ‘Then, when I had my son [Ian, now nine months], I sud­denly un­der­stood what Abe had been try­ing to get me to see: that love is not a lim­ited amount, but that it can grow; my heart could ex­pand.’

Can so­ci­ety be­yond the Rock ever be sim­i­larly con­vinced? By Enoch’s rea­son­ing, since the Mar­riage Equal­ity Act has made same-sex mar­riage le­gal, why should monogamy re­main the only fam­ily model? But, I con­clude, as I head back down the road to nor­mal, prob­a­bly be­cause most of us just aren’t ready for polygamy. Three Wives, One Hus­band, Chan­nel 4, Thurs­days at 9pm

‘Plu­ral mar­riage puts you face-to-face with a man’s deep­est fears and in­se­cu­ri­ties: maybe I can’t do it’

Top The clus­ter of cave-like dwellings at the Rock. Above Abel Mor­ri­son with his three wives, and their 12 chil­dren

Enoch Fos­ter with his wives Lil­lian and Ca­t­rina. Op­po­site Abel Mor­ri­son with his wives Suzie, Ma­rina and Beth

Top A snap­shot of Lil­lian and Ca­t­rina Fos­ter, flank­ing prospec­tive wife num­ber three, Ly­dia. Above Cary Knecht with Anna and three of their chil­dren

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