Marriage Fine?

Here’s an “outside the box” concept for you. Let me know whether you think we should implement something like this in the modern Church:

“The Lord commanded the first man to take a wife, and the commandment is applicable to every other man, therefore those who do not obey it are living in persistent opposition to the will of heaven. It was suggested at one of our Conferences, that all the unmarried young men over a certain age should pay $200 annually to the P.E. Fund till married. Those young men who are liable to this fine are reminded that the fund needs replenishing, and he would advise those young ladies who are still single through the dereliction of such young men, to stir them up and help collect the fines.” [1]

I don’t know, but I’m guessing that $200 a year in 1870 was some serious coin! So what do you think, would something like this work? Would it backfire? If we did it today, should the money go to the Perpetual Education Fund or somewhere else? How much should the fine be in 2010? Should it apply only to men and not to women? What is the age after which we should start assessing the fine? Let’s do a little social engineering…

[1] President George A. Smith, General Conference, Friday, October 7, 1870, 10 a.m. Deseret News 19. 36 (October 12, 1870): 417-420; reprinted Millennial Star 32 (1870): 706.


  1. Kristine says:

    “Let’s do a little social engineering…”

    Yeah, let’s see if we can get Mormon hierarchs to view women as full human beings with agency.

  2. esodhiambo says:

    Don’t you think all the single men would just complain that we don’t understand how hard they have it and go inactive?

  3. Aaron Brown says:

    Kristine, that’s crazy talk!!!

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I should give credit for this quote to my friend Ted, who is terrific at pulling out all sorts of Mormon arcana I’ve never even heard of before. This one was certainly a new one on me…

  5. nice point made, that marriage was not always about happiness and love.

  6. “Yeah, let’s see if we can get Mormon hierarchs to view women as full human beings with agency…”

    Heck no, I’d rather be a commodity to be rounded up and pedaled off to the motley derelicts and closeted men who would marry me to save themselves some coin. That’s an awesome proposition.

  7. Chelsea says:

    Kristine FTW! Again.

  8. Kristine, I see no mention of women in the quote. And seeing as this was back when same sex marriage was accepted by all, I can only attribute your comment to oversensitivity; just like you women.

  9. The GAs made a lot of statements in the 1870’s complaining about the large number of unmarried men. The problem was simple math; with General Authorities marrying dozens or many women, and most polygamists having two wives, there simply weren’t enough women to go around. Richard Van Wagoner had some interesting passages on this phenomenon and the public mockery of remaining single men that took place in the tabernacle.

  10. how the heck did the church get any new members back then?!?!?!

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 6
    Your comment reminded me of that segment in the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride where the wench is being auctioned off as a bride. Tried to find a video clip of that but couldn’t.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point, Molly. There was a really terrific journal article on the phenomenon of bachelors in the Utah of that period that would provide some context for this, I think. (I can’t remember which journal it was in; JMH, maybe?)

  13. Dave P. says:

    Yet another bit of church history trivia that we won’t hear about in Sunday School. Who claims to have received the revelation to institute this policy?

  14. “And seeing as this was back when same sex marriage was accepted by all”

    Please tell me this isn’t what you meant to say……
    If it is, I’m totally lost here.

  15. This is the same era where we hear how dangerous a single man is when he turns 26 or whatever

  16. GAS’s call is a Mormon variant of a proposal that was very often made in the 19th century, and proposed seriously, in the Gentile world. The idea was that bachelors were not carrying their share of the load of promoting and supporting and furthering society, so a tax on bachelors would help to make up the deficit. Sometimes it was suggested that the bachelor tax go to support public schools. I’ve never seen this particular Mormon variant supporting the PEF — cool.

  17. Mark B. says:

    Ah, Kristine, been limiting your diet to sauerkraut, sauerbraten and dill pickles again?

    Nothing you’ve said is a necessary implication of Bro. Smith’s suggestion. One might as easily have inferred that he wanted those deadbeat men to improve themselves to the point that the daughters of Zion would deem them worthy of a match. Of course, why would they need the risk of a $200 fine to encourage them? Shouldn’t the loveliness of the daughters of Zion so motivate those scoundrels that $200 per annum would be considered a pittance–how much greater the loss to be deprived of the constant company of one or two or a dozen of them!

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    I can’t find the journal article on Mormon bachelors in the 19th century I was thinking of; does that ring a bell with anyone?

    In the meantime, you might find Kathryn Daynes’ piece, “Single Men in a Polygamous Society,” JMH 24/1, of interest:

  19. It was suggested at one of our Conferences, that all the unmarried young men over a certain age should pay $200 annually to the P.E. Fund till married.

    Probably a reference to a suggestion made by Brigham Young during the October 1867 conference. From W. Woodruff’s notes:

    “All young men & madens old enough to marry are required to Marry & fulfill the Law of God. All young men who are 25 years old who do not Get Married in one month will be required to Pay $200 in cash into the perpetual Emigrating fund.”

    Bishop Tuttle’s notes on the same address are here.

  20. john willis says:

    In the 1930’s in Italy under Mussolini, this was actually implemented. Bachelors paid income tax at a rate almost twice as high as married men. The evidence is that these policies had little imoact on the marriage or birth rate.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Justin. So now we know that 25 was the proposed age at which the fine would begin to accrue, and also who the “he” is Pres. Smith is alluding to. Very useful info.

  22. If I had never married but instead were taxed at twice the rate I am now, my disposable income would have merely quintupled.

  23. I’ll let you folks deal with whether or not this is a good idea. I want to focus on the amount. What would it cost in terms of a fine to convince single men in the church to marry? Two suggestions:

    At the low end, the cost of an Xbox 360, the new Halo game, GTA III, and a year’s subscription to Xbox Live.

    At the high end, the difference in the cost of a new BMW 3 series coupe and a used Dodge minivan.

    It could be configured according to each individuals ability to pay, perhaps, with the bishop of the single ward being the final arbiter.

    That sounds better to me than a flat rate $200.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    We need one of the nacle economists to tell us the contemporary 2010 equivalent of $200 in 1870 (or 1867 if we go back to the original suggestion from BY).

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    According to this website:

    $200 in 1867 would have the purchasing power of $2,990 in 2009.

    So if we don’t make any further adjustment, the fine in the contemporary church should be about $3,000.

  26. gst: Maybe not. Economists tell us you’d be considerably less likely to earn what you do today if you were not married.

  27. Kristine says:

    “Kristine, I see no mention of women in the quote.”

    My point, exactly.

  28. Kristine says:

    Mark B.–my point is only that, while this is sort of a quaint 19th-century tidbit, the fact that Kevin could even half-seriously suggest it as a possibility in the contemporary church, without noting the fact that women might themselves take the initiative to make a marriage happen, suggests that something like social engineering may be necessary for us to start thinking of women as agents of their own fate, in marriage and otherwise.

  29. Peter LLC says:

    Would it backfire?

    Of course. Such as scheme requires captive membership, a facet of church life that is sorely missing in this permissive day and age when even the first presidency waffles over the definition of an eternal principle as plain and simple as tithing.

  30. Kristine
    I agree. At least this shows that these ideas go back a long way. Old habits die hard?

  31. Kristine says:

    Right. And they’re not uniquely Mormon, anyway. (Or at least they weren’t, until late in the last century)

  32. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 26
    gst didn’t say his earnings would be higher, he said his disposable income would be higher.

  33. Exactly. And to illustrate the point, I invite you to look at pictures of MikeInWeHo’s apartment and car, available on Facebook.

  34. Wait, so not only would gay guys who want to retain their membership in the church have to remain celibate, but also pay a fine? Peace out.

  35. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 33
    Privacy settings up, Scotty!

  36. You mean Mike’s Disco Pinto?

  37. MikeInWeHo says:

    If only the Disco Pinto were mine then there would be reason to envy this childless hedonist.

  38. Cameron says:

    If single guys had to shell out cash like that then they wouldn’t have any money left to go on dates to get married so they wouldn’t have to pay anymore and not sure if it would ensure guys to remain active over 25

  39. laurenlou says:


    “shift yer cargo, dearie…show ’em yer larboard side.”

  40. @34

    Your argument isn’t as strong as you suppose, JonJon. Most of us married guys are pretty celibate, too. And believe me, there are plenty of fines.

  41. @ #18

    Kevin, interesting article. I should have given the title of Van Wagoner’s book for anyone interested. Probably not necessary as it’s well known, but “Mormon Polygamy” by Richard S. Van Wagoner provides a great snapshot of demographics, numbers, and statistics on the actual practice.

  42. @40 Point well taken. I’d like to at least hope for occasional good sex, though. That’s something worth hoping for, right?

  43. Adam Greenwood says:

    obviously, to make KHH happy, we should fine the women too, at minimum.

    I propose that as compensation for past injustices, we only fine the women. Empowerment only costs $3000 a year, sisters. Line up with your checkbooks in hand!

  44. The Quakers actually did tax single men at a higher rate in colonial Pennsylvania for this very reason. So it has been done.

  45. presposterous to even joke about requiring such a fine of men who are single- from a single sis who has never married.

    Were such to be installed, I’d want the single men to “counter fine” those who required such fines, ie for the emotional stress of imposing such a callous fine.

  46. I always thought that commandment was intended for all men. If it’s only supposed to be “every other man” (I guess that’s where polygamy comes in) who gets married, we probably need to cancel some temple sealings quick or risk the Church falling into apostasy.

  47. On one hand, it really does make sense. It is the same rational behind deductions married couples take. And I would not be surprised if that came out as more than $3000.

    On the other hand, my current single state is not from a lack of desire. And I expect that quite a few other singles have the same experience.

  48. My comment comes a bit late to this thread, but I’m still going to make it. As a single man trying to get married, this “bachelor tax” would merely add insult to injury. And it would be a rather painful insult to an already rather painful injury. It’s simply cruel.

    This proposal is gender essentialism at its worst. It assumes that:
    – All single men have chosen singleness over marriage (not true)
    – No single woman chooses to be single (not true in some cases)
    – Men are the only ones responsible for making marriage happen (how can this possibly be true?)
    – Single men really are a menace to society (this is insulting, at the very least, and hardly a truism)
    – Men can and should be pushed into marriage (how romantic)
    – Women will benefit by marrying men who are pushed into marriage (dubious)

    And I could go on, but that’s enough.

    I am a single man. I’d rather not be single. I’ve been trying to shed my singlehood for much longer than I care to admit. I’m not a menace to society, but I do find that society sometimes treats me menacingly. This proposal wouldn’t change that perception.