Polygamists Practice Big Love In Arizona

They're an all-American family -- only with multiple wives.


Aug. 14, 2007— -- Welcome to Centennial Park -- population 1200 -- a tiny speck in the vast Arizona desert. A place where everyone considers themselves to be typical, All-American families in every way except one: the residents here practice polygamy.

Ariel Hammon, 32, his wife Helen, 30, their seven children, Ariel's second wife Lisa, 20, and their two children -- all twelve squeeze into a tiny two-bedroom cottage with just 1400 square feet of living space. As the kids grow and the family adds more wives and babies, the house will only get smaller.

But in the polygamous community of Centennial Park, overcrowding is a problem with a solution -- volunteer work crews. "We build each other's homes," says Ariel, who will pay for materials.

In a scene straight out of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the volunteers dig the hole, lay the foundation and frame an addition that will double the size of the Hammon house in just two days! "It's definitely an answer to my prayers," says a teary-eyed Helen. "I've been wondering how we're gonna accomplish it and here it is."

Ariel first caught the eye of his two wives in exactly the same way, he was their math teacher. "I was a senior and the minute I saw him it was like, 'that's it. That's who I'm supposed to marry,'" recalls Helen.

But dating is prohibited by the church; instead Helen prays and consults with her parents and church leaders. "My goal is to do my father's will, not what I necessarily would like to do," she says.

Incredibly, according to custom, the man is also in the dark about being a prospective husband until everyone else is in agreement.

Lisa says it happened exactly the same way for her and the fact that he was already married didn't bother her. "That wasn't a problem, that was a bonus!" she exclaims. Wife number one's reaction? "Wonderful! I've been praying for this since before I was married," Helen says.

It all seems hard to believe, so "Primetime" turns to every community's social rebels -- teenagers -- to see if they echo the sentiment. At first they seem much more liberal as all the teens raise their hands when asked if they listen to hip-hop. But the teenagers insist that in Centennial Park, dancing and provocative music lead tonothing.

When asked how many have had sex all hands remain down. Not a single person had ever kissed a member of the opposite sex or been out a date. "We want to stay virtuous," comments one teen.

In a country where nearly half of all high school students have had sex, and at the age of raging hormones, is it possible that the entire youth of Centennial Park are virgins? And that they'll wait until marriage?

The answer is a resounding "yes" because they say that their religion forbids it.

One teen, Michelle, wishes for the day that the priesthood will place her with a spouse. "If he has six or seven wives, I'd accept that," she says. "The man is not ours. We are given to the man but we can't claim him. So as many wives as he would want, he can have. As long as it's what God wants."

Polygamy went mainstream last year, when it made it's entertainment debut in the HBO series "Big Love." With one husband, three wives, lots of sex, jealousy, backstabbing and hillbilly relatives, "Big Love" is a big hit, but the Hammons say, not entirely accurate.

The wild, uninhibited sex portrayed in show isn't a reality for them because in their small home the children are everywhere. But, they still look forward to a few stolen moments alone. "Sex is an expression of love," says Ariel. "There is a lot of love here."

Who will sleep with Ariel on any particular night is decided mutually by the adults. "In our case it's a triple decision," says Ariel. "We have to take each other's feelings and needs and wants into consideration." If they both want him at the same time "someone is going to be disappointed," he says.

The women admit, it's only human to get jealous at times. "[It] is a very important thing in our lifestyle, to be open enough that you can say 'this is how I feel,'" says Helen. "And they can listen to that and you can work through those problems and not get your feelings hurt."

Lisa agrees, saying she doesn't want Ariel to lose interest in Helen. "If it goes away for her, what's gonna happen to me when another wife comes in? I want him to love her as much as he loves me."

As for the husband's challenge to perform for multiple wives, "I'm not Superman," Ariel says with a smile.

The Hammon family and the residents of Centennial Park allowed "Primetime" into their homes in order to distance themselves from the backward and isolationist image of the notorious polygamist community in neighboring Colorado City, Arizona.

Just two miles away, outside society is shunned and visitors are not welcome. "Just go to hell," and "Go now! Not quick enough" are just some the responses "Primetime" received by locals during visits. There we are the Outsiders.

By going public and inviting cameras into his home, Ariel and his wives know he's risking prosecution, because according to the law, polygamy is a crime -- the fear that the authorities might come in and shut down the community and destroy his family is very real.

"They have [done it] before, so that is a threat," says Ariel. "They can wreck the homes, they can tear up the streets, but they're not going to do away with us."

While the town fights to change the law, one thing is certain: Ariel Hammon, his wives Helen and Lisa, and their nine children -- the portrait of a young and growing polygamous family -- are intent on living and preserving what they view as the sacred principle of polygamy. This report originally aired on February 13, 2007.

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