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Did Emma Smith Approve of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy?

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Kevin Prince

Source Expert

Kevin Prince serves as the Source Authority at Mormonism Explained. Mr. Prince is a religious scholar as well as a technology industry CEO and entrepreneur.

Updated July 3, 2024

Doctrine and Covenants 132 contains Joseph Smith’s revelation on plural marriage. The revelation was originally addressed to Emma Smith. It is true that Joseph Smith fought polygamy, it is also true that Emma fought the practice as well. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 has language specific to Joseph and Emma Smith’s personal circumstances, but it also contains information on the general practice of polygamy. 

Verse 61 of Doctrine and Covenants 132 says that a plural wife can only be taken after “the first give her consent.” (D&C 132:61). However, there also appears to be a caveat to this statement in verse 65. If the wife does not give consent when her husband has been commanded to live this law, the husband is exempt from the “law of Sarah.” Presumably, this means he is exempt from getting the first wife’s consent. 

In practice, it appears that most plural marriages took the admonition to seek the first wife’s consent seriously. However, there is no way to verify that all polygamous marriages only took place with the consent of the first wife. In the case of Joseph and Emma Smith, Emma gave consent for various marriages but later changed her mind about them. Smith married other women, probably without Emma’s consent.