Polygamy was prominent in Romney's family tree
His ancestry lists several men who had multiple wives
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great-grandfathers had 12.
Polygamy was not just a historical footnote but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first LDS president.
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after LDS church leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.
Romney's great-grandmother, Hannah Hood Hill, was the daughter of polygamists. She wrote vividly in her autobiography about how she "used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow" over her own husband's multiple marriages.
Romney's great-great-grandfather Parley P. Pratt, an apostle in the church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley P. Pratt's brother and fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, became the first church official to publicly proclaim and defend polygamy as a direct revelation from God.
Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where church members fled in the 1800s to escape religious persecution and U.S. laws forbidding polygamy. He and his family did not return to the United States until 1912, more than two decades after the church issued "The Manifesto" banning polygamy.
"When you read the family's history, you realize how important polygamy was to them," said Todd Compton, a Mormon and independent historian who wrote a book about the polygamous life of the church's founder, Joseph Smith. "They left America and started again as pioneers, after they had done it over and over again previously."
B. Carmon Hardy, a polygamy expert and retired history professor at California State University-Fullerton, said polygamy was "a very important part of Miles Park Romney's family."
Hardy added: "Now, very gradually, as you moved farther away from it, it became less a part of it. But during the time of Miles Park Romney, it was an essential principle of the Romney family life."
Other LDS church members have run for the White House, including Romney's father in 1968 and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2000. But Mitt Romney's stature as a leading 2008 contender has renewed questions about his faith and its doctrines.
At the same time, polygamy remains a part of current events.
HBO is airing a television series, "Big Love," that features a man in Utah where the LDS church is based with three wives. Self-proclaimed "Mormon fundamentalist" Warren Jeffs, formerly on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, is facing multiple felony charges for sex crimes related to underage marriages among members of his breakaway church's 10,000 members in Utah and Arizona, who openly practice polygamy.
Romney has joked about polygamy, saying in various settings that to him, "marriage is between a man and a woman ... and a woman and a woman." But in serious moments he has called the practice "bizarre" and noted his church excommunicates those who engage in it.
An introductory film played at his fund-raisers and campaign appearances features his wife, Ann, talking about their 37-year marriage. Romney himself notes they started as high school sweethearts.
This month, Ann Romney tried a different tack, taking a lighthearted jab at her husband's main Republican competitors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as she introduced Romney at a Missouri GOP dinner.
The biggest difference between her husband and the other candidates, Ann Romney said, is that "he's had only one wife."
McCain has been married twice; Giuliani three times.
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