Placement marriage

Placement marriage

Placement marriage is the practice used to arrange marriages between members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church). This practice is used by members of the FLDS Church who wish to show their commitment and obedience in order to obtain salvation for themselves and their parents, and is considered “the most visible outward symbol of members’ devotion."Watson, Marianne. “The 1948 Secret Marriage of Louis J. Barlow: Origins of the FLDS Placement Marriage.” Dialouge 40, (2007) :83-136]


The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint group, is one of 8 primary Fundamentalist Mormon groups; other well known groups include: Apostolic United Brotheren, Latter Day Church of Christ also known was the Kingston group, Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, and the Centennial Park group. Placement marriage is a practice that uniquely belongs to the FLDS Church, although there are some similarities between the beliefs in marriage practices with the Latter Day Church of Christ.

The idea of placement marriage within the FLDS Church is not supposed to have existed prior to the 1940’s. In fact, their practices mirrored very closely those of nineteenth century Latter Day Saints, the church they broke off from, in that their decisions for marriage were made by considering “varied combinations of personal attraction and principles of faith (which usually included testimony or personal revelation) along with direct or indirect influence of family and ecclesiastical leaders”. This practice is still predominately used by most Mormon fundamentalists who believe in plural marriage, but is no longer used by the LDS church.

It was the Fundamentalist Mormons who changed the concepts of courtship and marriage for their followers over the past fifty years. Most fundamentalist outside of the FLDS Church disapproved of the idea of arranged marriages. They believe that arranged marriages violate the members’ free agency.

Placement Marriage during the fundamentalist split in the early 1950s

Parents’ consent was no longer considered important or relevant according to the newly formed Priesthood Council then lead by Leroy Johnson. Members were supposed to respect the right of the Council to assign marriages.Changes in the marriage procedure led to disputes and ultimately divisions of the FLDS Church. Younger female members were told to leave families who were still clinging onto the early ways of choosing spouses, and encouraged to be placed in a marriage under the direction of the Priesthood Council. This practice became the common and acceptable practice in Short Creek during Johnson’s presidency. This is primarily due to the fact that the members believed this was a more divine observance than when they choose their own spouses under the direction of their parents or the original Priesthood Council.

Placement Marriage during the late 1980s and early 1990s under the leadership of Rulon Jeffs

Changes in Authority

After Leroy Johnson died, Rulon Jeffs was appointed leader over the church. By this time the church had dissolved the Priesthood Council and the power of the church belonged to one man. In The 1948 Secret Marriage of Louis J. Barlow: Origins of FLDS Placement Marriage, Marianne T. Watson said “They all whole-heartedly sustained the arranged-marriage system. After the death of Leroy Johnson, they advocated complete obedience to Rulon Jeffs, considering him to be the prophet, the Keyholder, and the mouth piece of God”.

The Marriage Practices for the First Wife

Young members of the FLDS Church are not allowed to date before marriage to discourage falling in love. They are allowed to become acquainted with one another through the community, church, school, or family ties, but until the Priesthood Council arranges a spouse for them they are not allowed to be more than just friends.When a young man, generally around the age of twenty-one, feels ready to be married he approaches the Priesthood Council and then they decide who he will marry.Quinn, Michael. “Plural Marriage and Mormon Fundamentalism.” Dialouge 31, (1998) :1-68] They select a wife for the young man through a process of inspiration and revelation. When a woman feels prepared to be married, around the ages of 16 to 25, she informs her father of her own readiness, and is taken to meet with the prophet to tell him that she is ready to be married. While most women are approved, some are asked to wait for a time. If the prophet agrees to place her, then the future spouse is notified, and a ceremony is performed between a week and a few minutes. The wife’s opinions aren’t generally welcome when it relates to helping select her husband, though she can decide against marrying a man who was selected for her – this does not happen very frequently.

Entering Plural Marriage

The ages for plural wives can vary greatly, unlike the age between the first wife which is generally close to the husband’s age. The process for entering a plural marriage is slightly different. Married men do not normally volunteer themselves to enter plural marriage, but wait to be asked by the Priesthood Council. Delaying is allowed but declining is generally frowned upon. If a man does decline his is considered unfaithful for rejecting the decision made for him by the Priesthood. All of the choices about when, where, and whom he will marry are all decisions made by the Priesthood.

Success of Marriages

The idea of not knowing their spouse until minutes before they are married is usually viewed as romantic. The couple is expected to learn to love one another, even if the affection isn’t apparent instantaneously. Most marriages carried out under this condition appear to be stable and happy unions. Several couples are grateful for this practice because they believe “the only sure revelation comes from the prophet; they were glad to have a prophet to tell them whom to marry.”

The Priesthood of the Colorado City group chooses to arrange marriages because it reassures the members of the stability and permanence that is promised in a placement marriage. They also choose to this approach so that the couples are not closely related in the isolated community. Many members have confessed that some of the marriages were less successful and a few failed completely.

Similarities of Courtship outside of Placement Marriage

Fathers are always consulted before any daughter goes out on a date. If not the young man will be reprimanded. It is commonplace for an older man around the ages of 40 to 80, to court a teenage girl with parental consent.Like in the LDS church, one-on-one dating is highly discouraged. Most young members go out in groups.Bennion Janet. Women of Principle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.] There were designated “matchmakers”, men in good standing with the church who were appointed to give permission for others to court. Their guidance was also requested by a man looking for a wife.

Placement Marriages during the presidency of Warren Jeffs

There were suspicions that Warren Jeffs completely did away with the volunteer feature for young women who didn’t come to him and say they were ready to be married Incest and child marriages are also common among the FLDS Church. Forced marriages of young girls to men much older than they are whom they may not even know are not out of the usual. It is also ordinary for these men to be relatives whom already have wives. Incest is considered doctrine in a large number of groups.Moore-Emmett, Andrea. God’s Brothel. San Francisco: Pince-nez Press, 2004.]

Wives of Men who are Excommunicated

In 2002, in the month of October, Warren Jeffs was designated the new head of the FLDS Church.During Warren Jeffs reign as president of the church, many male members were excommunicated. The wives, along with children and property, of these men are given away to other more faithful men. If the wives did not agree to do as Warren Jeffs instructed they were also told to leave. Andrea Moore-Emmett, author of God’s Brothel wrote this about placement marriages: “Whether a woman is already married or not, “releasings” (divorces) and “sealings” (marriages) from one man to another man are at the whim of the leader”.

Moving away from Colorado City/Hildale (also known as Short Creek)

Within a year of becoming president, Warren Jeffs began to send small numbers of members to other places outside of Colorado City and Hildale–such as the site in Texas. During this process he put the congregation through many family break-ups and reassignments; some went through the reassignment more than once.

Conflicts with the Law

Incest and Child Marriages

Instances such as this can lead to problems with the law. A small group of Mormon fundamentalists called the Latter Day Church of Christ; founded by Charles W. Kingston, were recently “convicted of incest with teenage wives amid allegations of forced marriages and child abuse”Driggs, Ken. “Imprisonment, Defiance, and Division: A History of Mormon Fundamentalism in the 1940s and 1950s.” Dialogue 38, (2005):65-95] Child marriages are common in certain areas. In the Haker branch, young girls are marrying as young as 14 years old


During the 1944 raid many members were charged with kidnapping, and violations of the Mann Act. Fifteen of these members were then sentenced to state prison and nine more were sentenced to federal prison time. Charles Zitting and David Darger were charged with both federal and state sentences.

Free Agency vs. Placement Marriage

The idea of free agency is a fundamental principal of the original LDS church, and is also considered a large part of Mormon Fundamentalist doctrine. But Martha Sontag Bradley, author of Women of Fundamentalism, points out, “Women in Short Creek had few choices to make as adults. Here the culture of fundamentalism collaborated with the limited opportunities offered in this isolated, rural frontier community.”

A few days after the 1953 Short Creek raid, Louis J. Barlow addressed the unfriendly assumptions about placement marriages: “There have been no forced marriages. Everyone is free to leave or stay as he chooses".

Their choices are limited because they become so dependent on their leaders. The United Effort Plan, along with their isolation contributes to their inability to leave their church, and therefore, they are unable to make decisions except those that are commanded of them by their leaders such as placement marriage. [Bradley, Martha. “The Women of Fundamentalism: Short Creek, 1953.” Dialouge 23 (1990):15-38]


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