Question: Was there ever a consummation of the sealing between Maria Lawrence and Joseph Smith?

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Question: Was there ever a consummation of the sealing between Maria Lawrence and Joseph Smith?

Although under law, Joseph Smith and Maria Lawrence were not guilty of adultery, this does not mean that they had not consummated their plural marriage

A side issue raised by some relates to what the legal strategy can tell us about the status of Joseph and Maria's sealing. Under law, Joseph and Maria were clearly not guilty of adultery. This does not mean, however, that they had not consummated their plural marriage.

Most authors have concluded that their marriage was one which was consummated. This is due to relatively late, second-hand testimony, which Brian Hales has explored in detail.[1]

Bradshaw suggests:

Joseph instructed John Taylor on June 4, [1844] to initiate legal action against the Laws and Foster for perjury and slander against Maria [for charging her and Joseph with adultery]. No such suit is known to have been filed, since Joseph was killed three weeks later; however, the mere fact that Joseph planned to bring such a suit suggests that, in Joseph's mind, there was nothing to hide in his relationship with Maria. If there had been a sexual dimension to this particular plural marriage, it is almost unimaginable that Joseph would have wanted to file a lawsuit, knowing that Maria might be put on the witness stand—or even subjected to a gynecological examination [to determine whether or not she was a virgin]. The possibility that Joseph's relationship with Maria Lawrence did not involve intimacy is also plausible given his comments regarding the publication of the Expositor: "They make it a criminality for a man to have one wife on earth while he has one wife in heaven."[2] Since the only specific allegation of "criminality" (the adultery indictment) with respect to Joseph's plural marriages concerned Maria Lawrence, this statement by Joseph could be understood as a reference to his spiritual connection, or sealing, with Maria, but perhaps no more.[3]:414

In the same vein, Madsen argues:

The consequences of such an indictment [for adultery with Maria] were both legally and socially scandalous. Maria Lawrence's reputation would have been publicly damaged, independent of what the reputational consequences might have been to Joseph. She and her sister had been sealed to Joseph on May 11, 1843...with Emma's initial consent but later repudiation. Even if this celestial marriage could have been made [publicly] known, it would not have alleviated the scandal—it would have just turned it to another, even more flamboyant, direction....

This plan to counter-sue against the Laws and others has some interesting legal aspects. William Law had supplied testimony under oath that led to Joseph's indictment. If the adultery case had gone to trial and the jury had found Joseph not guilty, then Law would have been liable to a criminal charge of perjury and civil liability for slander. Possibly Joseph planned to prove his innocence, not only by his and Maria's denial of sexual intercourse but also by the testimony of a reputable physician who had conducted a physical examination and found that Maria was still a virgin. It would have been both foolhardy and fruitless for Joseph to have even imagined countersuing without something of such weight to present at trial.[4]

Hales, however, feels that the scenario offered by Madsen and Bradshaw is less likely:

This speculation is problematic because, since Maria was sealed to Joseph in a “time and eternity” sealing, then sexual relations would be permitted. In addition, virginity cannot always be proven by physical exam even if the woman has never experienced intercourse.[5]

Notes

  1. See link to Hales' materials at the bottom of this essay. The material about sexuality in the Maria Lawrence relationship is here.
  2. History of the Church. Volume 6 link
  3. M. Scott Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery under Illinois and Nauvoo Law," in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2014), 401–426.
  4. Gordon A. Madsen, "Serving as Guardian under the Lawrence Estate, 1842–1844," in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2014), 329–356(p. 348-350).
  5. Brian C. Hales, "Maria Lawrence–Evidences of Sexuality," josephsmithspolygamy.org website (accessed 21 June 2014).