While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon Church, 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 Mormon president in the 2008 elections.
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon 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 Pratt, an apostle in the church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley 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 governor George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where Mormons fled in the 1800s to escape religious persecution and US laws forbidding polygamy. He and his family did not return to the US 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 Mormons have run for the White House, including Romney's father in 1968 and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah in 2000. But Mitt Romney's stature as a leading 2008 contender has renewed questions about his faith and its doctrines.
Romney has made jokes 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 fundraisers and campaign appearances features his wife, Ann, talking about their 37-year marriage.
This month, Ann Romney tried a different tack, taking a lighthearted jab at her husband's main Republican competitors, Senator John McCain and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, as she introduced Romney at a Missouri Republican 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.
Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon Church in 1830, quietly introduced polygamy. He believed it had roots in the Old Testament and was necessary to reach the highest salvation in heaven.
Under government pressure, in 1890 Mormon President Wilford Woodruff issued "The Manifesto," in which he declared the Church no longer taught or permitted plural marriages. Nonetheless, the law of polygamy remains in the church's Doctrine and Covenants.
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