Joe Darger recently revealed a secret about his family which he knows has the potential to land him in jail: For more than two decades, Darger has hidden from coworkers and neighbors that he is a polygamist.
He lives with his three wives Alina, Vicki and Val and their 24 children in the suburbs outside Salt Lake City. The Dargers are independent fundamentalist Mormons who adhere to the tenet of plural marriage put forth by church founder Joseph Smith in the 19th century. With the publication of their book, "Love Times Three," they have taken the unusual step among polygamists of stepping out of the shadows and proclaiming their beliefs publicly. Polygamy is illegal in the United States and the Dargers know the decision to go public exposes their family to the danger of potential prosecution. They insist, though, that the time has come for those laws to change and for the misconceptions they see about their faith to be corrected.
PHOTOS: The Darger Family
"For change to be effective people have to be willing to stand for a principle of what's correct, even if that's uncomfortable for society as a whole," Joe Darger said. "We are law abiding citizens in every other way. I'm in a felonious relationship and that's a decision that we made and we have to explain."
The Dargers know that for many, polygamy conjures images of walled compounds, women in frontier style dresses and child brides. This past August, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, who he counted among his 87 wives. But the Dargers say this view of polygamy doesn't show the whole picture and that they are in many ways a typical, albeit large, modern American family.
This family's story begins 23 years ago, when in an unusual twist even for polygamists, Joe Darger began courting Alina and Vicki at the same time. While all three were in high school, it became clear that both Alina and Vicki had feelings for Joe. When Joe's mother noticed, she suggested to Vicki that the girls join forces and pursue Joe together. Vicki approached Alina with the unique proposition.
"I looked at Vicki and I'm like 'Hey she's my friend and I love her.' We're both open to it and he's a really good guy – let's see if we can make this work," Alina Darger said.
Joe, Alina and Vicki began seeing each other -- going out on dates together with the women alternating who got to sit in the front seat of the car next to Joe. The dual courtship flourished and, with the eventual approval of all 12 parents involved – Joe, Alina and Vicki all came from polygamous families -- Joe got down on one knee took both women's hands and proposed marriage to them at the same time. The double wedding ceremony that followed was another anomaly, even in polygamist circles.
Ten years into their marriage, the possibility of a third woman joining their family arose -- but this wasn't just any woman: It was Vicki's identical twin sister Val. After Val's first marriage to a man 26 years her senior ended in divorce, she went to visit her sister's family. That night Val and Joe shared a moment, locking eyes across the room, that would change all of their lives.
"I saw her soul in a different light than I'd ever seen it. It was just this really strong connection," Joe Darger said.