Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen

By Mark T. Decker; Michael Austin | Go to book overview

2
Four Consenting Adults in the Privacy
of Their Own Suburb
Big Love and the Cultural Significance of Mormon Polygamy

MICHAEL AUSTIN

The article of the Mormonite doctrine which is the chief provocative to the antipa-
thy which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints of religious tolerance, is its
sanction of polygamy; which, though permitted to Mahomedans, and Hindoos,
and Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when practised by persons
who speak English, and profess to be a kind of Christians
.

—John Stuart Mill, On Liberty


I.

When HBO premiered its polygamy-themed series Big Love in March of 2006, both polygamy and Mormonism had been the focus of considerable attention for the better part of the decade. In February of 2002, the world came to Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. Four months later a fourteen-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City by—the world found out nine months later—a homeless couple claiming God’s mandate to make her the husband’s plural wife. In 2003 Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, the best-selling Mormon-themed book of the new millennium, started its run. And during the same year that Big Love premiered, a Mormon senator from Nevada became the leader of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, and the Mormon governor of Massachusetts emerged as a top contender for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

In many ways, Mitt Romney was an ideal presidential candidate: an attractive, articulate, wealthy governor of a liberal state who had a

-37-

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