Monday, May 5, 1997 | 11:59 a.m.
Elizabeth Joseph contends polygamy dovetails with feminism because it allows career-minded women flexibility and freedom.
"Polygamy is an empowering lifestyle," Joseph said Saturday during her keynote address at the Utah NOW conference.
Joseph - an attorney, community college instructor and Arizona radio station news director - is one of eight women wed to Utah polygamist Alex Joseph of Big Water in southern Utah's Kane County.
She said being married to a man with seven other wives and living "within spitting distance from them" is liberating - not debilitating - as some might believe.
"People come up to me and say, 'You have an eighth of a husband,"' Joseph said. "I say, 'No, I have eight times the husband.' He learns from all of us, and we learn from him."
Alex Joseph is now 60 and diagnosed with cancer that has spread to his liver. When they married in 1974, she said, "I married the best man I ever met. The fact that he had five wives didn't matter."
Elizabeth Joseph said she promotes polygamy as a way of life because of the opportunities she, and the other wives, have had.
"I was able to go to law school 400 miles away, knowing my husband had clean shorts in the morning and dinner at night," she said.
A 1974 graduate of the University of Montana, she married Alex Joseph when she was 20. He was 37. She went to the University of Utah College of Law and graduated in 1979.
Joseph is the news and public affairs director at KXAZ and KPGE radio stations in Page, Ariz. In addition, she is the city attorney for Big Water, and teaches law, business and journalism classes at Coconino Community College in Page. She and Alex Joseph have three children together, and he has another 18 children and 27 grandchildren.
"I've maximized my female potential without the tradeoffs associated with monogamy," she said.
In monogamy, she said, many career-minded women delay getting an education by 20 years to raise a family.
She didn't have to wait and the polygamist lifestyle also allowed her "sister" wives to pursue careers as an artist, park ranger, and real estate broker.
Joseph said the wives are good friends. Each has separate living quarters, but a few live together because their children have grown.
Joseph said it's good to raise children in a polygamous family because the kids grow up in individual family units with a mother and father and enjoy the benefits of growing up in a large family.
Alex Joseph's business is home-based, so he is available to the children constantly, she said. And the women work out babysitting and caregiving responsibilities among themselves.
"My 8-year-old has never seen the inside of a day care," Joseph said.
Some social scientists have estimated there are as many as 20,000 persons living in polygamous families in Utah. Joseph estimated the polygamous population in the Intermountain West to be near 100,000.
Many belong to fundamentalist groups who believe the Mormon Church should not have abandoned the practice of polygamy in the late 1800s, a move that allowed Utah to become a state.
Her husband converted to the Mormon church in the 1960s, but left shortly afterward to join a fundamentalist group. He disagreed with some of that group's teachings and started Independent Fundamentalism in 1975.
In fundamentalist sects, marriages are arranged by a prophet through "revelation." But in Joseph's group, it is a personal decision.
Luci Malins, former Utah NOW executive coordinator and the chapter's action coordinator, said Joseph was an obvious choice as keynote speaker.
"If NOW is about anything, it is about choice," Malin said. "We selected a speaker with whom we might not normally have an opportunity to communicate."