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Polygamists hit the Web in search of 'sister-wives'

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Margie Sharp browses the personal ads of potential sister-wives. (Courtesy of the Sharp family)

Albert Morrison is a religious man. He prays, he reads the Bible and says he has a deep connection with Jesus. It is this devotion that helps explain why Albert and his wife, Sarah, are searching for a second wife.

“David, Abraham, Jacob, Solomon--they all had multiple wives,” he said, referring to four of the Bible’s revered figures. “The Bible never banned polygamy, it glorified it.”

The Morrisons are part of a group of Evangelical Christian polygamists who believe that the practice of taking more than one wife is spiritually and even economically more favorable than monogamy.

Taking multiple wives is essential for them they say, but finding them isn’t easy. The Morrisons, who live in eastern Idaho, do not have a church or a religious community and have very limited social networks through which they can meet potential spouses, or sister-wives. All this is complicated by the fact that polygamy is illegal in the United States. So, the Morrisons and a growing number of polygamists like them are looking where millions of people seeking companionship, love and sex have ventured: the Internet.

“Sarah and I wish there were as many legitimate avenues for finding a spouse as there are for traditional relationships,” said Morrison. “But, that’s the beauty of the Internet. It eases the loneliness of being a Christian polygamist. You can connect with people all across the country.”

Albert, 44, who drives a truck, and Sarah, 31, a manager at a nursing home, have been married for six years. They started looking for a third spouse three years ago and say they put up ads on various sites like SoulfulHarmony.com, 2Wives.com and ChristianMarriage.com. Since then, they say they have heard from people in nearly every state and Canada.

The Morrison’s personal ad reads like any other on the site: “Loving couple seeks to share life with like-minded woman. We don’t care what color your skin is, we want to get to know your heart.”

“It is not about the sex,” Albert said. “It's about companionship.”

Once a couple and another woman agree to get married, she and they are united, usually by an elder or otherwise religious male figure, in a simple ceremony in front of family and friends. The ceremony, though not legally binding, typically includes readings from the Bible and a short simple speech about the virtues of marriage. Because the couple is not legally married in the eyes of the state, the practice avoids breaking any laws against polygamy.

Evangelical Christian polygamists have no connection to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormon Church that openly practices polygamy. While polygamy experts say there are about 35,000 FLDS polygamists in the United States, there is no exact number for the group known as Christian polygamists. Mark Henkel, the founder of Truthbearer.org, a Christian evangelical pro-polygamy organization, said that the polygamist movement has been growing steadily since 1994.

“The advent of the Internet really put Christian polygamy on the map,” said Henkel,

While both groups are polygamous, the group known as Christian polygamists are scattered across the country, whereas the FLDS is concentrated in Colorado City, Ariz.; Hilldale, Utah; and most recently, El Dorado, Texas.

Both groups, however, share the quality of being extremely conservative in their views about morality, but unconventional in their views about what defines a marriage. Though polygamy has been linked to underage marriage, Henkel emphasizes on his Web site that those who follow Christian polygamy do not engage in such practices and are consenting adults.

John Llewellyn, a former deputy sheriff in Utah who has investigated and written about polygamy, says he has not seen cases of exploitation of minors associated with pro-polygamy sites.

“Christian polygamy attracts extremely religious adults with a desire to live God’s word,” said Pastor Don Milton, a minister in Arizona who preaches polygamy from his Web site ChristianMarriage.com

Milton hopes to open a church that will be accepting of people who choose polygamous lifestyles. “We can’t openly preach polygamy because it’s against the law, but we will welcome families who engage in the lifestyle,” he said.

Until then, the Internet is his pulpit. His Web site has helped create a virtual community for people who don’t have one in the real world. He runs a small personals section on his site, but generally tries not to get involved with matching people up, fearing imprisonment. Still, he makes an enthusiastic pitch for the skeptic.

“Of course a woman would want to marry a married man,” Milton said. “A single guy is an unknown quantity, whereas a married guy has a track record.”

But, not all single women feel that way. Milton said that couples are desperate to find single women, but single women generally want single men.

So goes the challenge that Margie and Lee Sharp have been facing. Margie, 32, and Lee, 36, live in Loranger, La., and have been looking for a religious, white woman to help raise their four boys.

The Sharps say they are born-again Christians who made the decision to practice polygamy after closely studying the Bible. “We prayed and prayed and prayed about it and God put it in our hearts to practice the Biblical lifestyle,” Margie Sharp said.

She goes to church twice a week and started looking for a sister-wife three years ago. When she began telling members of her non-denominational church in Louisiana about her search, some members started calling her wicked and immoral. Her family told her she was crazy and her neighbors thought she was odd. “So, I turned to the Internet, it was the only place I could be honest and not be laughed at,” she said.

Although she and her husband have found solace in cyberspace, Margie says, they haven’t found a sister-wife. “I want someone who will be my best friend and will give me a baby girl,” Margie says, ticking off the criteria that make the search for a soulmate difficult. “We’re not into homosexual threesomes; we don’t drink, or smoke or gamble,” she said. “We’re looking for marriage; we’re not dating and don’t believe in pre-marital sex”.

The Morrisons have also experienced the highs and lows of Internet dating. “We met one woman who was 97 years old,” Albert said with a chuckle. “But she acted like she was 20!” Last year, they met a more appropriately aged woman from Alabama who might have married them, but neither they nor she could relocate.

“We’re just going to keep praying and keep searching the Internet,” Albert said. “God will find someone for us when he wills.”

E-mail: zm37@columbia.edu