Allred deplored the child abuse and welfare fraud of some polygamists. His group required wives to be of consenting age and husbands to support their families. His family had a dairy farm, a cattle ranch, and a cabinetmaking factory. One wife admitted that, "When we were young, it was difficult and there were jealousies of course. But you grow older and you find your place in life. We all love each other, visit and spend time with our own families." Allred himself noted, "I hate to be hated. I think everybody does . . ., but I want to be myself and live the way I believe, the way the Lord told me to do. Now does that make me an evil person?" Anthropologist Janet Bennion reported on the women living in Allred's group. Fundamentalist women are often underestimated, she says, because they are considered prisoners of a male religion. Instead, she found women drawn to these groups after being marginalized in the mainstream church and larger society, deprived economically, socially, and emotionally. In fundamentalism, they found solidarity as they clung together for survival, supporting themselves, manipulating a male doctrine to fit a female reality. She found polygyny a viable alternative for women looking for alternative forms of sex, marriage, and family.
Bennion found a grand paradox in patriarchal religious movements. Women were better suited to succeed in fundamentalism than men. The range of marital prospects for girls was wide as every man was eligible. The divorce rate was 35 percent. Women who joined the sect had striking upward social and economic mobility, and high-status women had more power than low-status men. Single, educated women who joined the sect in their thirties did the best. Men who joined the group for sexual reasons soon left it dissatisfied by sexual taboos during pregnancy, lactation, and menstruation and because of disharmony with the leaders. Younger sons were ignored, and some turned to drugs and alcohol. A small number of prestigious males controlled the distribution of wives and resources. The elite males of polygamy were not always as sensible as Owen Allred. Some were clearly delusional and violent. In the early 1970s, Ervil LeBarron executed rival polygamists in Mexico and Utah. LeBarron died in prison, but his followers continued the murders. In the late 1970s, after John Singer, who withdrew his children from public schools, was shot by law officers, his son blew up a building and led his clan to an armed standoff with police. In the early 1980s, Dan and Ron Lafferty killed a sister-inlaw and her daughter because she supported the decision of Ron's wife to leave him. In 2003, Brian David Mitchell, attempting to set up his own polygamous enclave, abducted and abused fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart. All these cases involve patriarchy gone amok, revealing potential violence in absolutist systems. The fundamentalists would say that they are not typical.
Once married, fundamentalist women find it difficult to leave. At least 25 percent say they would drop out if they could take their children. Meanwhile, the women cooperate in informal friendship circles and household service projects. More than half also work for wages. These women are willing to share and scrounge and be formally dominated by elite polygamous men, sacrificing a comfortable mortality for what they hope is exaltation, acceptance, and admiration.
Polygamous women have gone into print to defend their lifestyle. Three plural wives collected 100 testimonials of women who felt that revelation required them to live polygamy. They saw the Manifesto as ransom paid for statehood and as advice, not a binding revelation. They saw the Mormons moving from being persecuted to persecuting those who had not given up the principle. They said they had freely chosen this life, entering the principle for true freedom and to get the highest blessings that God offered. The younger women wrote romantically and spiritually of their marriages. "This principle puts my soul to the test as it divides my carnal, selfish nature from my spiritual nature and makes me choose between them every day," said one. The women choose their husbands and his new wives. "It isn't often that a woman is able to select the man of her choice and know that he is a good man, and still be able to keep her identity." Several would have preferred to be the first wife. One's story was a fairy tale with a prince and the two princesses living happily ever after.
As Salt Lake City and Utah geared up for the Olympics in 2002, polygamist Tom Green visited television talk shows, becoming an embarrassment to the state. Green, who lived with his five wives and twenty-nine children in a group of trailers in the remote West Desert, was eventually arrested. He may well have been guilty of welfare fraud, but he was tried for bigamy. Although the state had not prosecuted polygamists for 100 years, Green was taken to court and sentenced to five years in prison for having multiple wives. A year later he was tried again for child rape because one of his wives became pregnant in 1986 at age thirteen. They had married in Mexico a few months before Utah's legal age. Green was sentenced to five more years to life for this crime. The wife, Linda Kunz Green, remained faithful and devoted. Utah once protected polygamists against the national government, but she has come to rooting them out herself. Critics pointed out the irony that Green's prosecutor, David Leavitt, brother of the Utah governor, Michael Leavitt, later named as head of the U.S. Environmental Protective Agency, was proudly descended from polygamous stock.
Family was important to Mormons when they practiced and defended plural marriage in the nineteenth century. Family is important today when Church leaders defend the nuclear family and the divided roles of men and women. Church leaders solemnly declare what is desired in the Proclamation on the Family. But most agree that this is an ideal rather than a description of reality. Some Church members criticize the Proclamation for its stand against the current world morality and for leaving out single Church members. But even Mormons who cannot rise to ideal behavior defend the Proclamation as the way things should be. Like many LDS aspirations, this is a tough one, but one that many strive for and some may have achieved.