For all the political differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney, it’s important to remember there is more in humanity that unites than divides.
Consider what author David Maraniss discovered that Obama and Romney have in common: Polygamy in their family trees.
Romney’s family history is better known, given the publicity surrounding his membership in the Mormon church.
But Maraniss, whose biography of Obama is due out in June, writes in The Washington Post that “the line of polygamists in Obama’s family can be traced back generations in western Kenya, where it was an accepted practice within the Luo (pronounced LOO-oh) tribe.”
His great-grandfather, Obama Opiyo, had five wives, including two who were sisters. His grandfather, Hussein Onyango, had at least four wives, one of whom, Akumu, gave birth to the president’s father, Barack Obama, before fleeing her abusive husband.
Obama Sr. was already married when he left Kenya to study at the University of Hawaii, where he married again. His American wife-to-be, Stanley Ann Dunham, was not yet 18 and unaware of his marital situation when she became pregnant with his namesake son in 1961.
Maraniss also traces Romney’s lineage:
His paternal great-grandfathers, Miles Park Romney and Helaman Pratt, were born in the United States but lived for decades in Mexico. Pratt was a Mormon missionary there; Miles Park Romney left Utah for Mexico with a tribe of polygamous Mormons after the practice was outlawed in the United States in 1890.
Pratt had five wives. Miles Park Romney had four, and 30 children, one of whom was Gaskell Romney. The polygamy stopped at Gaskell, who had a single wife and seven children. One of the children, George, was born in a Mormon colony in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, although he was nonetheless a U.S. citizen. He was Mitt’s father.
Maraniss, a Pulitzer Prize winner, finds the Obama and Romney stories to be very American:
Although the candidates are noted for their innate caution, their family histories evoke a kind of exceptionalism that defines the United States — not in some gauzy and false way, but in the reality of a national fabric woven from exotic threads. Where to start? How about polygamy?