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Polygamy has been a feature of human culture since earliest history. The term polygamy (many marriages in late Greek) is used in related ways in social anthropology, sociobiology, and sociology. Polygamy can be defined as any "form of marriage in which a person [has] more than one spouse."[1]

In social anthropology, polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one spouse simultaneously. Historically, polygamy has been practiced as polygyny (one man having more than one wife), or as polyandry (one woman having more than one husband), or, less commonly as "polygamy" (having many wives and many husbands at one time). (See "Forms of Polygamy" below.) In contrast monogamy is the practice of each person having only one spouse. Like monogamy, the term is often used in a de facto sense, applying regardless of whether the relationships are recognized by the state (see marriage for a discussion on the extent to which states can and do recognize potentially and actually polygamous forms as valid).

In sociobiology, polygamy is used in a broad sense to mean any form of multiple mating. In a narrower sense, used by zoologists, polygamy includes a pair bond, perhaps temporary.

Forms of polygamy

Polygamy exists in three specific forms, including polygyny (one man having multiple wives), polyandry (one woman having multiple husbands), or group marriage (some combination of polygyny and polyandry). Historically, all three practices have been found, but polygyny is by far the most common.


Polygyny is described as when a man is either married to or involved in sexual relationships with a number of different females at one time. This is the most common form of polygamy. Polygyny is practiced in a traditional sense in many African cultures and countries today, including South Africa and most of Southern and Central Africa.


Polyandry is a breeding practice where a woman has more than one male sexual partner simultaneously. Fraternal polyandry was traditionally practiced among nomadic Tibetans including Nepal and parts of China, where it meant that two or more brothers share the same wife, with her having equal sexual access to them. Polyandry is believed to be more likely in societies with scarce environmental resources, as it is believed to limit human population growth and enhance child survival. A woman can only have so many children in her life time, no matter how many husbands she has. On the other hand, a child with many "fathers", all of whom provide resources, is more likely to survive. (In contrast, the number of children would be increased if polygyny were practiced, and a man had more than one wife. These wives could be simultaneously pregnant).[2] It is a rare form of marriage that exists not only among poor families, but also within the elite.[3]

Group marriage

Group marriage, or circle marriage, may exist in a number of forms, such as where more than one man and more than one woman form a single family unit, and all members of the marriage share parental responsibility for any children arising from the marriage. Another possible arrangement not thought to exist in reality, although occurring in science fiction (notably in Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress), is the long-lived line marriage, in which deceased or departing spouses in the group are continually replaced by others, so that family property never becomes dispersed through inheritance.


Bigamy is when one individual is married to two people at the same time and at least one of the marriages is a legal marriage. Most western countries have laws making any second marriage a crime. For example, in the United States, because of the contract a married person makes upon becoming married, that person is under obligation not to marry again as long as the first marriage continues; stipulations of the marriage license applying.

The purpose of bigamy laws is to protect a spouse from entering a marriage based upon deceit. Examples would be Hezekiah Bradley Smith [4] and Frankie Lymon [5].


In seventeenth to nineteenth century England, Trigamy referred to someone who had three spouses at the same time.

The term is typically used for comic reference. An example is the limerick by William Cosmo Monkhouse about a man from the town of Lyme in Dorset, England.

There was an old fellow of Lyme
Who lived with three wives at one time.
When asked, 'Why the third?'
He replied, 'One’s absurd,
and bigamy, sir, is a crime.'

From the modern legal perspective, trigamy is viewed as two counts of bigamy.


Main article: Polyamory

The term polyamory refers to romantic or sexual relationships involving multiple partners at once, regardless of whether they involve marriage. Any polygamous relationship is polyamorous, and some polyamorous relationships involve multiple spouses. "Polygamy" is usually used to refer to multiple marriage, while "polyamory" implies a relationship defined by negotiation between its members rather than cultural norms.

Serial monogamy

Main article: Serial monogamy
The phrase serial monogamy has been used to describe the lifestyle of persons who have repeatedly married and divorced multiple partners.

Other forms of nonmonogamy

Main article: Forms of nonmonogamy

Other forms of nonmonogamous relationships are discussed at Forms of nonmonogamy.

Benefits of polygamy

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist, in his provocative book, Plural Marriage for our Time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society. According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children, "Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options." Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men.[6]

Polygamy worldwide

According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of the 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.[7]

Patterns of occurrence

At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polygyny occurs relatively rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[8] To take on more than one wife often requires considerable resources: this may put polygamy beyond the means of the vast majority of people within those societies. Such appears the case in many traditional Islamic societies, and in Imperial China.

Within polygynous societies, multiple wives often become a status symbol denoting wealth and power. Similarly, within societies which formally prohibit polygamy, social opinion may look favorably on persons maintaining mistresses or engaging in serial monogamy.

Some observers detect a social preference for polygyny in disease-prone (especially tropical) climates, and speculate that (from a potential mother's viewpoint) perceived quality of paternal genes may favour the practice there. The countervailing situation allegedly prevails in harsher climates, where (once again from a potential mother's viewpoint) reliable paternal care as exhibited in monogamous pair-bonding outweighs the importance of paternal genes.

Polygamy in Chinese culture

Since the Han Dynasty, technically, Chinese men could have only one wife. However throughout the thousands of years of Chinese history, it was common for rich Chinese men to have a wife and various concubines. Polygyny is a by-product of the tradition of emphasis on procreation and the continuity of the father's family name. Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage. An emperor, government official or rich merchant could have up to hundreds of concubines after marrying his first wife, or tai-tai.

The Chinese culture of Confucianism and thus the practice of polygyny spread from China to the areas that are now Korea and Japan. Before the establishment of the modern democratic mode, Eastern countries permitted a similar practice of polygyny.[9]
Situation in east Asia
After the Communist Revolution in 1949, polygamy was banned. This occurred via the Marriage Act of 1953.

In Mongolia, there has been discussion about legalizing polygamy to reduce the imbalance of the male and female population.[10]

In Hong Kong, polygamy was banned in October 1971. [11] However, it is still practiced in Hong Kong and Macau. One example of this is Stanley Ho. Another is Lim Por Yen.[12] Some Hong Kong businessmen have concubines across the border in mainland China. Kevin Murphy of The International Herald Tribune[13]reports the cross-border polygyny phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995.[14]

Man-Lun Ng, M.D. of Humboldt University of Berlin reported the situation in Hong Kong: it was estimated that out of the approximately two million married couples in Hong Kong, about 300,000 husbands had mistresses in mainland China (1996). In 1995, 40% of extramarital affairs involved an enduring long-term relationship with a stable partner.[11]

The traditional attitude toward mistresses is reflected in the saying: "wife is not as good as concubine, concubine is not as good as prostitute, prostitute is not as good as secret affair, secret affair is not as good as the affair you want but can't get" (妻不如妾, 妾不如妓, 妓不如偷, 偷不如偷不到).

The number of women becoming the secret second wife is ever increasing in east Asia. The terms 二奶 (er nai/ yi nai) & 包二奶 (bao er nai / bao yi nai) refer to the second woman and the act of having the second woman respectively. Mansions and villages are now nicknamed 二奶村 (er nai cun / yi nai tsuen) (village of second woman) when a number of secret second wives live.

Polygamy and religion


Both polygamy and polygyny were practiced in ancient times among certain sections of Hindu society. Hinduism during the vedic period seems to have neither prohibited polygamy, nor did it encourage it. Historically, kings occasionally took concubines. For example, the Vijaynagara emperor, Krishnadevaraya had multiple "wives." Under Hindu Marriage Law, as understood by the constitution of India, polygamy is forbidden for Hindu, Jains, and Sikhs. However, Muslims in India are allowed to have multiple wives. Marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question.[15].


Scriptural evidence indicates that polygamy among the ancient Hebrews, though not extremely common, was not particularly unusual and was certainly not prohibited or discouraged. The Hebrew scriptures document approximately forty polygamists, including such prominent figures as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Esau, and David, with little or no further remark on their polygamy as such. The Torah, Judaism's central text, includes a few specific regulations on the practice of polygamy, such as Exodus 21:10, which states that multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first wife; Deuteronomy 21:15-17, which states that a man must award the inheritance due to a first-born son to the son who was actually born first, even if he hates that son's mother and likes another wife more[16]; and Deuteronomy 17:17, which states that the king shall not have too many wives.[17] One source of polygamy was the practice of levirate marriage, wherein a man was required to marry and support his deceased brother's widow, as mandated by Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

In the modern day, Rabbinic Judaism has essentially outlawed polygamy. Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban since the 11th century.[18] Some Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (particularly those from Yemen and Iran, where polygamy is a social norm) discontinued polygamy much more recently, as they emigrated to countries where it was forbidden. The State of Israel has forbidden polygamous marriages, but instituted provisions for existing polygamous families immigrating from countries where the practice was legal.

Among Karaite Jews, who do not adhere to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, polygamy is non-existent today, primarily because Karaites interpret Leviticus 18:18 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if his first wife gives her consent (Keter Torah on Leviticus, pp.96—97). Furthermore, Karaites interpret Exodus 21:10 to mean that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife; the marital duties are 1) food, 2) clothing, and 3) sexual gratification. Because of these two biblical limitations, polygamy is considered impractical, and there are no known cases of it among Karaite Jews.


Marriage is considered a secular issue in Buddhism. As such, the religion is silent on issues of polygamy and monogamy. However, the third percept aimed at lay followers of basic Theravada Buddhist philosophy suggests, according to some interpretations, to refrain from extra-marital affairs, as they harm the existing relationship between two. In Tibetan Buddhism, namely Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, it is not uncommon to take a consort in addition to a spouse, though it is namely for certain spiritual practices that the spouse may not be able/ready to participate in--or if the husband/wife are at different levels on their spiritual path. A consort is appropriate in such cases. Within this context, either the husband or wife, occasionally both, might take a spiritual consort. This is known as Consort Practice, and there are specific teachings and mediations that go along with it. Consort Practice is often very private, however, and not openly discussed outside of followers of Tibetan Vajrayana--which tends to be a very private form of Buddhism in general -- hence it is not very well known. Husbands and wives also engage in Consort Practice together, monogamously.


Saint Augustine saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy. He writes in The Good of Marriage (chapter 15) that, although it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful." He refrained from judging the patriarchs, but did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy. In chapter 7, he wrote, "Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife, so as to have more than one wife living." [emphasis added]

However, the Roman Catholic Church has subsequently ruled on more fundamental grounds that "polygamy is not in accord with the moral law. [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive." (Catholic Cathechism, para. 2387, Vatican website). This is also the normal position among Protestant Churches, and it can therefore be said that the mainstream Christian position is to reject polygamy in principle.

Periodically, Christian reform movements that have aimed at rebuilding Christian doctrine based on the Bible alone (sola scriptura) have at least temporarily accepted polygamy as a Biblical practice. For example, during the Protestant Reformation, in a document referred to simply as "Der Beichtrat" ( or "The Confessional Advice" ),[19] Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication,"[20] a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal.[21] Some fifteen years earlier, in a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Brück, Luther stated that he could not "forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture." "Ego sane fateor, me non posse prohibere, si quis plures velit uxores ducere, nec repugnat sacris literis."[22]

"On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that, because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years’ War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them."[23][24][25][26][27]

The modern trend towards frequent divorce and remarriage is sometimes referred to by conservative Christians as 'serial polygamy'. In contrast, sociologists and anthropologists refer to this as 'serial monogamy', since it is a series of monogamous (i.e. not polygamous) relationships.[28]

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there has often been a tension between the Christian churches' insistence on monogamy and traditional polygamy. In some instances in recent times there have been moves for accommodation; in others churches have resisted such moves strongly. African Independent Churches have sometimes referred to those parts of the Old Testament which describe polygamy in defending the practice.


The history of Mormon polygamy begins with claims that Mormonism founder Joseph Smith received a revelation from God on July 17, 1831 that some Mormon men would be commanded to practice "plural marriage". The July 12, 1843 recording of a Smith revelation on plural marriage is now canonized as scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants by the LDS Church[29]. For years the practice of plural marriage by Mormons in the United States was not publicly known. The 1835 edition of the 101st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, written before the doctrine of plural marriage was practiced, publicly condemned polygamy. This scripture was used to quash Mormon polygamy rumors by John Taylor during 1850 in Liverpool, England[30]. Polygamy was illegal in the state of Illinois[31] during the 1839-44 Nauvoo era when several top Mormon leaders including Smith, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball took plural wives. Mormon elders who publicly taught that all men were commanded to enter plural marriage were subject to discipline; for example, the February 1, 1844 excommunication of Hyram Brown.[32] In May 1844 Smith declared, "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one."[33]. On June 7, 1844 the Nauvoo Expositor criticized Smith for plural marriage. The Nauvoo city council declared the Nauvoo Expositor press a nuisance and ordered Smith, as Nauvoo's mayor, to order the city marshall to destroy the paper and its press. This controversial decision led to Smith going to Carthage Jail where he was killed by a mob on June 27, 1844. The main body of Mormons soon followed Brigham Young to Utah where the practice of plural marriage continued.

On August 29, 1852 the church began to publicly acknowledge their practice of plural marriage through a sermon on the subject given by Apostle Orson Pratt. Additional sermons by top Mormon leaders on the virtues of polygamy followed[34]. Much controversy ensued and many novelists began to write books and pamphlets condemning polygamy, portraying it as a legalized form of slavery. The key plank of the Republican Party's 1856 platform was "to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery".[35] In 1862 during their first term with full control of both Congress and the White House, the Republicans issued the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act and the Emancipation Proclamation. The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act clarified that the practice of polygamy was illegal in all U.S. territories. Latter-day Saints believed that their religiously-based practice of plural marriage was protected by the Constitution. However the 1879 unanimous Supreme Court Reynolds v. United States decision declared that polygamy was not protected by the Constitution, based on the longstanding legal principle that "laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices."[36]

Increasingly harsh anti-polygamy legislation penalized church members, disincorporated the church, and permitted the seizure of church property. Members of the church were subsequently sent to Canada and Mexico to set up communities free from prosecution and in order to keep their marriages intact; e.g., Charles Ora Card founded Cardston, Alberta at the direction of John Taylor. The church's fourth president, Wilford Woodruff, issued a public declaration (commonly called the Manifesto) announcing the official discontinuance of the practice in 1890. Woodruff indicated in his diary that his action was taken "for the temporal salvation of the Church" which had been shown to him as being in danger through a vision from the Lord.[37]. Much of the opposition against the church ceased because of the Manifesto. Statehood for Utah was granted in 1896 as opposition because of the controversy over Mormon polygamy waned.

National attention in the United States again focused on potential polygamy among the church in the early 20th century during the House of Representatives hearings on Representative-elect B. H. Roberts and Senate hearings on Senator-elect Reed Smoot (the Smoot Hearings). Sixth church president Joseph F. Smith issued the church's Second Manifesto against polygamy in 1904 which clarified that all members of the LDS Church were officially prohibited from performing or entering into polygamous marriages, no matter what the legal status of such unions was in their respective countries of residence. In 1909 a committee of apostles met to investigate post-Manifesto polygamy, and by 1910 the church had a new policy. Those involved in plural marriages after 1904 were excommunicated; and those married between 1890 and 1904 were not to have church callings where other members would have to sustain them. Although the LDS Church officially prohibited new plural marriages after 1904, many plural husbands and wives continued to cohabit until their deaths in the 1940s and 1950s.[38] Seventh church president Heber J. Grant who died in 1945 was the last LDS Church president to have practiced plural marriage.

The LDS Church now excommunicates members found to be practicing polygamy.[39] The "Teachings of Brigham Young"[40] and a LDS website on Joseph Smith [41] are some examples on how LDS Church publications now commonly characterize the history of early church leaders on the practice of plural marriage.

Although most Mormons now accept the prohibition on plural marriage, various splinter groups left the mainline LDS Church to continue the open practice of plural marriage. Polygamy among these groups persists today in Utah, neighboring states, and the spin-off colonies, as well as among isolated individuals with no organized church affiliation. Polygamist churches of Mormon origin are often referred to as "Mormon fundamentalist" who often use a disputed September 27, 1886 revelation to John Taylor as the basis for their authority to continue the practice of plural marriage.[42] The Salt Lake Tribune states there are as many as 37,000 fundamentalists, with less than half of them living in polygamous households.[43] Most of the polygamy is believed to be restricted to about a dozen extended groups of polygamous fundamentalists. The LDS Church asserts that it is improper to call any of these splinter polygamous groups "Mormon."[44][45]


Main article: Polygamy in Islam
In Islam, polygamy is allowed, with the specific limitation that men can only have up to four wives at any one time. However, the Qur'an specifically states that men who choose this route must deal with their wives as fairly as possible, doing everything that they can to spend equal amounts of time and money on each one of them. Although many Muslim countries still retain traditional Islamic law which permits polygamy, certain elements within Islam challenge its acceptability. For example, polygamy is prohibited by law in Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Pakistan, if the first wife has not officially given her permission for the second marriage, it is not considered legal and the husband will end up in jail.

Legal situation

Secular law in most western countries with large Jewish and Christian populations does not recognize polygamous marriages. However, few such countries have any laws against living a polygamous lifestyle: they simply refuse to give it any official recognition. Parts of the United States, however, criminalize even the polygamous lifestyle; these laws originated as anti-Mormon legislation, although they are rarely enforced.[46] Polygamists may find it harder to obtain legal immigrant status.

Multiple divorce and marriage for polygamy

Some polygamous families use a system of multiple divorce and legal marriage as a loophole in order to avoid committing a criminal act. In such cases the husband marries the first wife, she takes his last name, he divorces her and then marries the next wife, who takes his name. This is repeated until he has married and divorced all his wives, except possibly the last one. This way the wives feel justified in calling themselves Mrs. [husband's last name] and, while legally they're divorced from the husband, they still act as if married to him and expect those around them to acknowledge and respect this.

Since only one wife is officially married to the husband at any one time, no law is being broken and so this type of polygamous family unit can be overt about their relationship.

The conviction of Thomas Arthur Green in 2001 may have made the legal status of such relationships more precarious in Utah, although Green's bigamy convictions were made possible only by his own public statements.

Recent polygamy cases

The practice of informal polygamy among fundamentalist groups presents itself with interesting legal issues. It has been considered difficult to prosecute polygamists for bigamy, in large part because they are rarely formally married under state laws. Without evidence that suspected offenders have multiple formal or common-law marriages, these groups are merely subject to the laws against adultery or unlawful cohabitation — laws which are not commonly enforced because they also criminalize other behavior that is otherwise socially sanctioned. However, some "Fundamentalist" polygamists marry women prior to the age of consent, or commit fraud to obtain welfare and other public assistance.

In 2001, the state of Utah in the United States convicted Thomas Green of criminal non-support and four counts of bigamy for having 5 serially monogamous marriages, while living with previous legally divorced wives. His cohabitation was considered evidence of a common-law marriage to the wives he had divorced while still living with them. That premise was subsequently affirmed by the Utah Supreme Court in State v. Green, as applicable only in the State of Utah. Green was also convicted of child rape and criminal non-support.[47]

In 2005, the state attorneys-general of Utah and Arizona issued a primer on helping victims of domestic violence and child abuse in polygamous communities.[48] Enforcement of crimes such as child abuse, domestic violence, and fraud were emphasized over the enforcement of anti-polygamy and bigamy laws. The priorities of local prosecutors are not covered by this statement.

Edith Barlow, a mother of five in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., was denied permanent residence and has been asked to leave the country after ten years in Canada.[49] In Canada, polygamy is a criminal offence[50] but prosecutions are rare. The Attorney General in British Columbia has expressed concerns over whether this prohibition is constitutional; an independent prosecutor in British Columbia recommended that Canadian courts be asked to rule on the constitutionality of the law against polygamy.[51]. A 2005 report by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre recommended that Canada decriminalize polygamy, stating: "Criminalization is not the most effective way of dealing with gender inequality in polygamous and plural union relationships. Furthermore, it may violate the constitutional rights of the parties involved."[52]

Current proponents and opponents


David Friedman and Steve Sailer have argued that polygamy tends to benefit most women and disadvantage most men. Friedman uses this viewpoint to argue in favor of legalizing polygamy, while Sailer uses it to argue against legalizing it. The idea is firstly that many women would prefer half or one third of someone especially appealing to being the single spouse of someone that doesn't provide as much economic utility to them. Secondly, that the remaining women have a better market for finding a spouse themselves. Say that 20% of women are married to 10% of men, that leaves 90% of men to compete over the remaining 80% of women.

The Libertarian Party supports complete decriminalization of polygamy as part of a general belief that the government should not regulate marriages.

Individualist feminism and advocates such as Wendy McElroy also support the freedom for adults to voluntarily enter polygamous marriages.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is opposed to Utah's law against bigamy.[53]

Those who advocate a Federal Marriage Amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage generally word their proposed laws to also prohibit polygamy.


The Roman Catholic Church clearly condemns polygamy; the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists it in paragraph 2387 under the head "Other offenses against the dignity of marriage" and states that it "is not in accord with the moral law." Also in paragraph 1645 under the head "The Goods and Requirements of Conjugal Love" states "The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection. Polygamy is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive."

Currently the vast majority of Protestant congregations take the Catholic view on polygamy.

The illegality of polygamy in certain areas creates, according to certain Bible passages, additional arguments against it. Paul of Tarsus writes "submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience" (Romans 13:5), for "the authorities that exist have been established by God." (Romans 13:1) St Peter concurs when he says to "submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (1 Peter 2:13,14) Pro-polygamists argue that, as long as polygamists currently do not obtain legal marriage licenses for additional spouses, no enforced laws are being broken any more than when monogamous couples who similarly co-habitate without a marriage license.[54]

At the present time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports enforcing laws against polygamy, although historically this denomination practiced polygamy which they considered to be a principle revealed by God, and fought vocally against those seeking to establish such laws. Today, the church will excommunicate any member found to be practicing polygamy.

Controversial Christian vegetarian activist and leader Nathan Braun implies a positive stance towards polygamy in his fourth edition of The History and Philosophy of Marriage.

Scientific studies

Tim Clutton-Brock and Kavita Isvaran at the University of Cambridge in England, compared about 20 monogamous and polygynous vertebrate species, found the more polygynous a species was, the more likely their males were to age faster and die earlier than females.[55]

Polygamy today

Those who live in their own communities tend to find their additional spouses from within their own communities or networks of like communities. In rare cases, this involves daughters of polygamous families entering into arranged marriages with older men who already have a number of wives. Marriage age can be young and sometimes below the legal minimum. It is also not uncommon for fairly close relatives to marry, leading to inbreeding, though part of this comes from the difficulty of keeping track of the complex net of familial relations.

Those who are geographically separated from other polygamists in their culture use other means to find additional spouses.

Mormon fundamentalism

Some sects that practice or at least sanction polygamy are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Latter-day Church of Christ and the Apostolic United Brethren. These sects tend to aggregate in communities where they all commonly share their own specific religion and thus basis for polygamy. These small groups ranging from a few hundred to about 10,000 are reported to be located in various communities of the Western United States, Canada, and Mexico including:[56]

Muslims & traditionalist cultures

Polygamy, and laws concerning polygamy, differ greatly throughout the Islamic world and form a very complex and diverse background from nation to nation. Whereas in some Muslim countries it may be fairly common, in most others it is often rare or non-existent. However, there are certain core fundamentals which are found in most Muslim countries where the practice occurs. According to traditional Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives, and each of those wives must have her own property, assets, and dowry. Usually the wives have little to no contact with each other and lead separate, individual lives in their own houses, and sometimes in different cities, though they all share the same husband. Muhammad, for example, married many of his wives because they were war widows who were left with nothing and took care of them. Thus, polygamy is traditionally restricted to men who can manage things, and in some countries it is illegal for a man to marry multiple wives if he is unable to afford to take care of each of them properly.

In the modern Islamic world, polygamy is mainly found in traditionalist Arab cultures , Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for instance , whereas in secular Arab states like Tunisia and non-Arab countries with Muslim population, Turkey for example, it is banned. However, polygamy is still practiced in Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim country, but there are restrictions as to how it can be practiced.[57] In traditionalist cultures where polygamy is still commonplace and legal, Muslim polygamists do not separate themselves from the society at large, since there would be no need as each spouse leads a separate life from the others.

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Shiite Islamic law accepts temporary marriage, called Nikah Mut'ah. Because of changing norms in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where a majority of the population is still under the age of 25. Places called Chastity Houses have been sanctioned by the Islamic government to allow youth to go against conservative cultural norms of older generations that see such sexual activity amongst younger people as taboo. This temporary marriage is allowed for males and females only if they are not virgins or have parental consent. This form of polygamy is many a times considered "mistress marriages" by critics in the West.

Polygamy in fiction

Oscar Wilde on the subject. Writing in one of his plays: "Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Marriage is the same."

A popular joke with Mark Twain has Twain asked to cite a Scripture reference that forbids polygamy, and he responds with, "No man can serve two masters."

A number of writers have expressed their views on polygamy by writing about a fictional world in which it is the most common type of relationship. These worlds tend to be utopian or dystopian in nature. For instance, Robert A. Heinlein uses this theme in a number of novels, such as Stranger in a Strange Land.

Polygamy is practiced by the Fremen in Frank Herbert's Dune as a means to pinpoint male infertility. It is socially accepted as long as the man provides for all wives equally. Cultures described within the Dune novel series have intentional similarities to Islamic, Arabic, and other cultures.

Similarly, the Aiel society in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series practice a form of polygamy, in which multiple women may marry the same man; in that fictional culture, women are the ones who propose marriage. Among Aiel, sisters or very close friends who have adopted each other as sisters, will often marry the same man, so that he will not come between them.

Dan Simmons describes a culture of three-person marriages (any gender ratio) in his book Endymion.

Noted libertarian author L. Neil Smith included a character married to two sisters in his book The American Zone. The dominant culture in the novel sees one's religion and personal living accommodations as no one else's business, and "acts of capitalism between consenting adults" as the norm instead of something immoral.

Jean M. Auel in the pre-historic Earth's Children series depicted several instances of "co-mating," where a person could have more than one mate. Examples included the headwoman Tulie in the Mammoth Hunters, and a man who married a pair of twins in the Shelters of Stone. Also of note was Vinavec, the headman of the Mammoth Camp who wished to mate with the protagonist Ayla and was willing to take her Promised, Ranec, implying a bisexual relationship as well.

A Home at the End of the World is a novel and film about a polyandrous family. It explores issues of homosexuality and families.

In the Sci-Fi Star Trek television series , the ship's physician, Dr. Phlox (who is a Denobulan) has three wives, and each of his three wives have three husbands (including Dr. Phlox) of their own. One of Phlox's wives seemed to be interested in having extramarital relations with a Human, which Phlox himself did not oppose, and even encouraged. It has also been established on multiple occasions that the Andorian species enter into group marriages.

In the Sci-Fi television series Babylon 5 the Centauris allow for men to have more than one wife.

In Star Wars Expanded Universe, it is explained that Cereans (like Ki-Adi-Mundi) have a much higher birth-rate of girls than boys. Thus, every male Cerean must have one wife and multiple "honor wives", to increase the chance of giving birth to another male. Jedi Cerean Ki-Adi-Mundi was allowed to marry multiple times, although Jedis were not supposed to marry at his time; but Ki-Adi-Mundi got a dispense of that norm.

Big Love is an HBO series about a polygamous family in Utah in the first decade of the 21st century. In the series, Bill Henrickson has three wives and seven children, who belong to a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group. Big Love explores the complex legal, moral, and religious issues associated with polygamy in Utah. Henrickson's three wives each have separate houses beside one another, with a shared backyard. By outward appearances, he lives with his primary wife, and has two "friends" living close by, while in reality taking turns sleeping at a different house each night. Henrickson effectively balances his work, the continuing demands of his wives, and his wives' relatives.

In Duke of the Mount Deer/The Deer and the Cauldron the Hong Kong writer Louis Cha (Jin Yung) assigned 7 willing wives of different characters to the very capable hero Wai-Siu-Bo (Wei-Shao-Bao). This politics, office-politics, romance & kung-fu survival story was based in the early Ching (Qing) Dynasty (of Kangxi reign 1654--1722). The saga has been made into films & TV series several times since the 1960s. Famous actors like Tony Leung (Leung Chiu Wai), Steven Chow (Chow Sing Chi) & Dicky Cheung (Cheung-Wai-Kin) have played the male role.

Random House will publish award-winning author David Ebershoff's next novel The 19th Wife in 2008. It is about Ann Eliza Young and the legacy of Mormon polygamy in the United States today. Ebershoff is the author of the international bestseller The Danish Girl.

See also


1. ^ Polygamy at socialsciencedictionary.org
2. ^ (Linda Stone, Kinship and Gender, 2006, Westview, 3rd ed, ch 6)The Center for Research on Tibet Papers on Tibetan Marriage and Polyandry. Accessed: October 1, 2006
3. ^ Goldstein, Pahari and Tibetan Polyandry Revisited, Ethnology. 17(3): 325-327, 1978, from The Center for Research on Tibet. Accessed: October 1, 2006
4. ^ "Hezekiah's two wives. A Congressman's predicament. One wife in Vermont and another in New Jersey.", New York Times, November 22, 1878. Retrieved on 2007-08-21. “The greenback congressman elect in trouble. The friends here of Hon. H.B. Smith, of Smithville, New Jersey, will be glad to learn that be has been elected to Congress by the Democrats of the Second District of that State. He will be an honest and faithful member.1878"> 
5. ^ Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon, and Larenz Tate star in 'Why Do Fools Fall in Love.'. Jet (magazine). Retrieved on 2007-08-26. “The sexy, scandalous life of Frankie Lymon and the three women he married without ever divorcing has been brought to the big screen in Why Do Fools Fall In Love.
6. ^ Kilbride, Philip Leroy. Plural Marriage For Our Time. Bergin & Garvey, 1994. ISBN 0-89789-314-X
7. ^ Ethnographic Atlas Codebook derived from George P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas recording the marital composition of 1231 societies from 1960-1980
8. ^ Diouf, Nafi. "Polygamy hangs on in Africa", The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 2004. 
9. ^ The Legacy Lingers On: Korean Confucianism and the Erosion of Women’s Rights by Hildi Kang, Research Fellow, Center for Korean Studies, University of California, Berkeley]
10. ^ ?? - article in Chinese
11. ^ Hong Kong, article by Man-Lun Ng, M.D.; part of "The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality" Volume I - IV 1997-2001, Edited by Robert T. Francoeur
12. ^ Tycoon, concubine engage in battle over her legal rights, The Observer, Tuesday, Sep 28, 2004, Page 5
13. ^ Graeme Lang, Josephine Smart (2002). "Migration and the “second wife” in South China: Toward cross-border polygyny". The International Migration Review 36 (5): 546–569. 
14. ^ Hong Kong Targets Its Two-Family Men, Kevin Murphy, International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, February 7, 1995
15. ^ Marriages-Divorces section at general information website on Indian laws by Sudhir Shah & Associates
16. ^ Deuteronomy 21:15-17
17. ^ Judaica Press Complete Tanach, Devarim - Chapter 17 from Chabad.org
18. ^ Frequently asked questions, Judaism and Polygamy
19. ^ Letter to Philip of Hesse, Dec. 10, 1539, De Wette-Seidemann, 6:238-244
20. ^ The Life of Luther Written by Himself, p.251 [1]
21. ^ James Bowling Mozley Essays, Historical and Theological. 1:403-404 Excerpts from Der Beichtrat.[2]
22. ^ Letter to the Chancellor Gregor Brück, Jan. 13, 1524, De Wette 2:459.
23. ^ Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59.
24. ^ Joseph Alfred X. Michiels, Secret History of the Austrian Government and of its Systematic Persecutions of Protestants (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859) p. 85 (copy at Google Books), the author stating that he is quoting from a copy of the legislation.
25. ^ William Walker Rockwell, Die Doppelehe des Landgrafen Philipp von Hessen (Marburg, 1904), p. 280, n. 2 (copy at Google Books), which reports the number of wives allowed was two.
26. ^ Leonhard Theobald, “Der angebliche Bigamiebeschluß des fränkischen Kreistages” [“The So-called Bigamy Decision of the Franconian Kreistag”], Beitrage zur Bayerischen kirchengeschichte [Contributions to Bavarian Church History] 23 (1916 – bound volume dated 1917) Erlangen: 199-200 (Theobald reporting that the Franconian Kreistag did not hold session between 1645 and 1664, and that there is no record of such a law in the extant archives of Nürnberg, Ansbach, or Bamberg, Theobald believing that the editors of the Fränkisches Archiv must have misunderstood a draft of some other legislation from 1650).
27. ^ Alfred Altmann, "Verein für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnburg," Jahresbericht über das 43 Vereinsjahr 1920 [Annual Report for the 43rd Year 1920 of the Historical Society of the City of Nuremburg] (Nürnberg 1920): 13-15 (Altmann reporting a lecture he had given discussing the polygamy permission said to have been granted in Nuremberg in 1650, Altmann characterizing the Fränkisches Archiv as “merely a popular journal, not an edition of state documents,” and describing the tradition as “a literary fantasy”).
28. ^ Fisher, Helen. The First Sex. Ballantine Books, 271-72, 276. ISBN 0-449-91260-4. 
29. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 132 as found at lds.org
30. ^ THREE NIGHTS PUBLIC DISCUSSION Between The Revds. C. W. Cleeve, James Robertson, and Philip Cater, And Elder John Taylor, Of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, At Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France. Chairman, Rev. K. Groves, M.A., Assisted By Charles Townley, LL.D., and Mr. Luddy. pg 8-9
31. ^ Greiner & Sherman, Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, pg. 198-199
32. ^ Times and Seasons, vol. 5, pg. 423, February 1, 1844
33. ^ History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume VI, edited by B. H. Roberts, 1902.
34. ^ JD 11:128 Brigham Young - June 18, 1865 - "Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious."
35. ^ GOP Convention of 1856 in Philadelphia from the Independence Hall Association website
36. ^ Reynolds v. United States at findlaw.com
37. ^ 1890 Manifesto as found at lds.org
38. ^ Polygamy entry in the Utah Historical Encyclopedia, University of Utah, 1994.
39. ^ What is the Church’s position on polygamy? at LDS Church owned website
40. ^ Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, © 1997 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Publication number 35554
41. ^ Joseph Smith, Life of the Prophet, Joseph and Emma, "The Choice of My Heart"
42. ^ "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor"
43. ^ "LDS splinter groups growing" by Brooke Adams, August 9, 2005 - SLT Article ID: 10BF07C805DE5990
44. ^ "Mormon Fundamentalists", 6 March 2006 press release by the LDS Church
45. ^ "Polygamist Sects Are Not 'Mormons,' Church Says", 25 October 2006 press release by the LDS Church
46. ^ Turley, Jonathan. Polygamy laws expose our own hypocrisy
47. ^ State v. Green
48. ^ Utah Attorney General Office Polygamy page, which describes The Primer: Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities
49. ^ Salt Lake Tribune article about Edith Barlow
50. ^ Section 293 of the Criminal Code.
51. ^ Reuters: Canada urged to review legality of polygamy ban
52. ^ Polygamy in Canada: Legal and Social Implications for Women and Children – A Collection of Policy Research Reports
53. ^ ACLU of Utah to Join Polygamists in Bigamy Fight, 7/16/1999 press release.
54. ^ "Law of the Land" page at BiblicalPolygamy.com
55. ^ Why Males Die Before Females
56. ^ Utah Attorney General's Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office. The Primer, Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities (pdf). Retrieved on May 31, 2006.
57. ^ Women's Aid Organisation: Know Your Rights, Polygamy


  • Hales, Brian C. (2007). Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations After the Manifesto. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books. ISBN 1-58958-035-4. 
  • Cairncross, John (1974). After Polygamy Was Made a Sin: The Social History of Christian Polygamy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-7730-0. 
  • Campbell, James (1869). The History and Philosophy of Marriage. Re-published online at TruthBearer.org. First published in Boston. Retrieved on August 5, 2005.
  • Chapman, Samuel A. (2001). Polygamy, Bigamy and Human Rights Law. Xlibris Corp. ISBN 1-4010-1244-2. 
  • Hillman, Eugene. Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches. New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-391-0. 
  • Korotayev, Andrey (2004). World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective, First Edition, Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0. 
  • Van Wagoner, Richard S. (1992). Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd Ed., Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 0-941214-79-6. 
  • Wilson, E. O. (2000). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Harvard Univ Pr. ISBN 0-674-00235-0. 

External links

  • Pro-Polygamy.com - Provides op-eds and press releases on polygamy-related current events for the secular mass media
  • Anti-Polygamy.com - A discussion forum for both sides of the anti-polygamy debate.
  • 4TheFamily.us - Chat, discussion forum, and news with a focus on polygyny (one-man, multiple wives). Note: Other forms of polygamy, such as polyandry and polyamory, are not welcome for discussion here.
  • The Weekly Standard: Polygamy vs. Democracy
  • http://p221.ezboard.com/bsisterwives - The SisterWives community is an internet community with polygamy chat and discussion forums that work to support poly people and help to create a healthy poly mindset for both religious and secular people.

Christian polygamy


Mormon polygamy

  • MormonPolygamy.com - Group of Fundamentalist Mormon women in Utah, called "Principle Voices of Polygamy", who advocate consensual, adult Mormon polygamy.

Jewish polygamy

Muslim perpsective

Greater China Region

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Concubinage is the state of a woman or youth in an ongoing, quasi-matrimonial relationship with a man of higher social status. Typically, the man has an official wife and, in addition, one or more concubines.
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Courtship, traditionally the wooing of a female by a male that, for example, includes activities such as dating (dinner and a movie, a picnic, or general "hanging out"), along with other forms of activity, such as meeting online (also known as virtual dating), chatting on-line,
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Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse.

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Family is a Western term used to have denote a domestic group of people, or a number of domestic groups linked through descent (demonstrated or stipulated)
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A husband is a male participant in a marriage.

Origin and etymology

The term husband refers to Middle English huseband, from Old English hsbnda, from Old Norse hsbndi
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