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Legal status of
Recognized under civil law

Burkina Faso
The Gambia

Saudi Arabia
South Africa
Sri Lanka1
Western Sahara

Recognized in some regions

Nigeria (BA, BO, GO, JI, KD, KA, KT, KE, NI, SO, YO, ZA)

Foreign marriages recognized

Australia (welfare only)
United Kingdom (welfare only)

Recognized under customary law

Equatorial Guinea

Sierra Leone
South Africa

Status in other jurisdictions

Côte d'Ivoire
DR Congo
Iraqi Kurdistan
Mayotte (FR)

United States

Nigeria (IM, KW, LA, NA, OY, PL)
See also

Polygamy by country
Marriage practice by country


1Illegal in all forms; Muslims exempt
2Regions governed by Sharia

*In certain countries and regions, only Muslims may legally contract a polygamous marriage

This article is about the marriage practice. For the botany term, see Sexual reproduction in plants.

The term polygamy (a Greek word meaning "the practice of multiple marriage") is used in related ways in social anthropology, sociobiology, sociology, as well as in popular speech. Polygamy can be defined as any "form of marriage in which a person [has] more than one spouse at the same time."[1]

In social anthropology, polygamy is the practice of a person's making him/herself available for two or more spouses to mate with. Polygamy can be practiced as polygyny (one man having more than one wife), or as polyandry (one woman having more than one husband), or, less commonly as group marriage (a marriage which includes multiple husbands and wives). (See "Forms of Polygamy" below.) In contrast, monogamy is a marriage consisting of only two parties. 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. In popular speech, polygamy is often mistakenly assumed to refer to polygyny alone rather than including the other forms, as more polygamous relationships in human history have been polygynous.[citation needed]


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.[2] Confusion arises when the broad term "polygamy" is used when a narrower definition is intended.


Polyandry is a practice where a woman is married to more than one man at the same time. Fraternal polyandry was traditionally practiced among nomadic Tibetans in Nepal, parts of China and part of northern India, in which 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 lifetime, 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).[3] It is a rare form of marriage that exists not only among poor families, but also the elite.[4]

Group marriage

Group marriage, or circle marriage, may exist in a number of forms,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Another possibility, which occurs in fiction (notably in Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress) is a long-lived line marriage. In a line marriage, deceased or departing spouses in the group are continually replaced by others so that family property never becomes dispersed through inheritance.



Bigamy is the act or condition of a person marrying another person while still being lawfully married to a second person. Bigamy is listed (and sometimes prosecuted) as a crime in most western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, by law, a married person is not allowed to marry again as long as their first marriage continues.

Often the term bigamy is used where two or more spouses are unaware of each other, in contrast to polygamy where normally all spouses know about one another.[5][6]

In the United States, the Model Penal Code (section 230.1) defines bigamy as a misdemeanor and polygamy as a felony. Having more than one spouse at the same time gets classified as polygamy, and bumped to a felony, if it is done "in purported exercise of a plural marriage..." According to Joel Feinberg in Moral Limits of the Criminal Law: "Righteously, flaunting one's illicit relationships, according to the Code, is apparently a morally aggravating circumstance, more punishable than its clandestine and deceptive counterpart."[7]

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

Other forms of nonmonogamous relationships are discussed at Forms of nonmonogamy. One modern variant is polyamory.

Patterns of occurrence worldwide

According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.[2] 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 that formally prohibit polygamy, social opinion may look favorably on persons maintaining mistresses or engaging in serial monogamy.[citation needed]

Patterns of occurrence across religions


Samaritanism is the only monotheistic religion that is monogomous based on the interpretation of the Samaritan Torah. In the book of Leviticus it is stated that, "You shall not marry a woman over another to be a rival to her to uncover her nakedness as long as she is alive." In the Masoretic text, the same verse is interpreted to mean two sisters from the same parents, not any woman.


In Buddhism, marriage is not a sacrament. It is purely a secular affair and the monks do not participate in it. Hence it receives no religious sanction.[9] Forms of marriage consequently vary from country to country. It is said in the Parabhava Sutta that "a man who is not satisfied with one woman and seeks out other women is on the path to decline". Other fragments in the Buddhist scripture can be found that seem to treat polygamy unfavorably, leading some authors to conclude that Buddhism generally does not approve of it[10] or alternatively that it is a tolerated, but subordinate marital model.[11]

Until 1935 polygyny was legally recognized in Thailand. In Burma, polygyny was also frequent. It is still legally recognized but very rarely practiced in modern day and socially less acceptable.[citation needed] In Sri Lanka, polyandry was practiced (though not widespread) till recent times.[9] When the Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese, the concubines of others were added to the list of inappropriate partners. Polyandry in Tibet as well was common traditionally, as was polygyny, and having several wives or husbands was never regarded as having sex with inappropriate partners.[12] Tibet is home to the largest and most flourishing polyandrous community in the world today. Most typically, fraternal polyandry is practiced, but sometimes father and son have a common wife, which is a unique family structure in the world. Other forms of marriage are also present, like group marriage and monogamous marriage.[13] Polyandry (especially fraternal polyandry) is also common among Buddhists in Bhutan, Ladakh, and other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

The 2008 BBC documentary series "A Year in Tibet", recorded three distinct cases of polyandry in and around the city of Gyantse alone (the pregnant farmer's wife in episode 1, "The Visit"; Yangdron in episode 2, "Three Husbands and a Wedding"; and the young monk, Tsephun's, mother in episode 5, "A Tale of Three Monks"). In "Three Husbands and a Wedding", a 17-year-old girl is also shown being forced into a marriage that would have been polyandrous, except that the younger, 12-year-old, brother had to attend school on the wedding day (his parents hint that he will marry his older brother's new wife at a later date). The programs include statements from the women involved that indicate they did not enter the polyandrous marriages willingly, and commentary that indicates young women in Tibet are routinely forced by their families into polyandrous marriages with two or more brothers.


Polygamy was practiced in many sections of Hindu society in ancient times. Concerning polyandry, there was one example of polyandry in the ancient Hindu epic, Mahabharata, Draupadi marries the five Pandava brothers as a message to human society. Regarding polygamy, in Ramayana, father of Ram, King Dasharath has three wives, but Ram has pledged himself just one wife.

The Hindu god, Lord Krishna, the 8th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu had 16,108 wives. Although there is controversy regarding this because some Hindu scholars argue that Krishna left Brindabon (where he spent his childhood with some male and female company) at the age of 12 to save his birth place from the evil king, Kans. Historically, kings routinely took concubines (such as the Vijaynagara emperor, Krishnadevaraya). In the post-Vedic periods, polygamy declined in Hinduism, and is now considered immoral,[14] although it is thought that some sections of Hindu society still practice polyandry, in the areas of Tibet, Nepal, and China.

Marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question. After independence and, under the terms of the, Hindu Marriage Act, polygamy is considered illegal for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs[15] but Muslim men in India are allowed to have multiple wives.[16]


Biblical practice

The Hebrew scriptures document approximately forty polygamists.[citation needed] In practice, multiple marriage was considered a realistic alternative in the case of famine, widowhood, or female infertility.[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.

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 (specifically, her right to food, clothing and conjugal relations). Deuteronomy 21:15–17, 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;[18] and Deuteronomy 17:17 states that the king shall not have too many wives.[19] The king's behavior is condemned by Prophet Samuel in 1Samuel 8. Exodus 21:10 also speaks of Jewish concubines. Israeli lexicographer Vadim Cherny argues that the Torah carefully distinguishes concubines and "sub-standard" wives with prefix "to", lit. "took to wives."[20]

The monogamy of the Roman Empire was the cause of two explanatory notes in the writings of Josephus describing how the polygamous marriages of Herod were permitted under Jewish custom.[21]

Modern practice

In the modern day, Rabbinic Judaism has essentially outlawed polygamy. Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban since the 11th century.[22] Some Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (particularly those from Yemen and Iran) discontinued polygamy much more recently, as they emigrated to countries where it was forbidden.

Among Karaite Jews, who do not adhere to Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, polygamy is almost non-existent today. Like other Jews, 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) and 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 and because nearly all countries outlaw it, polygamy is considered highly impractical, and there are only a few known cases of it among Karaite Jews today.


Israel has made polygamy illegal,[23][24] but in practice the law is not enforced, primarily so as not to interfere with Bedouin culture, where polygamy is common. Provisions were instituted to allow for existing polygamous families immigrating from countries where the practice was legal. Furthermore, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef[25] and Israeli columnist Greer Fay Cashman[26] have come out in favor of legalizing polygamy and the practice of pilegesh (concubine) by the Israeli government.


Saint Augustine saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy. He writes in The Good of Marriage (chapter 17) 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."[27]

He refrained from judging the patriarchs, but did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy. However, Augustine does compare (ch 20) the relationship of woman to man in the context of marriage to slave and master, the latter (husband) can have many slaves (women) but it is against nature for woman to have many slaves (husbands).[28] In chapter 7 he acknowledges that contemporary Christianity had followed the practice of the Roman Empire with respect to monogamy: "now indeed in our times, and after the usage of Rome, neither to marry in addition, so as to have more than one wife living" [emphasis added].[29]

The New Testament is ambiguous with respect to polygamy. In 1 Timothy 3:2 the emphasis is on Church leaders: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach." Something similar is repeated in the first chapter of the Epistle of Titus; however, the author of 1 Corinthians (chapter 7, verse 2) writes, "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." In modern times a minority of Roman Catholic theologians have argued that polygamy, though not ideal, can be a legitimate form of Christian marriage in certain regions, in particular Africa.[30][31] The Roman Catholic Church teaches in its Catechism 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."[32]

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" ),[33] Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication,"[34] a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal.[35] 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.")[36]

"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."[37][38][39][40][41]

The trend towards frequent divorce and remarriage is sometimes referred to as 'serial polygamy'.[42] In contrast, others may refer to this as 'serial monogamy', since it is a series of monogamous relationships.[43] The first term highlights the multiplicity of marriages throughout the life-cycle, the second the non-simultaneous nature of these marriages.

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 (more accurately, polygyny) begins with Mormonism founder Joseph Smith stating that he received a revelation from God on July 17, 1831 that some Mormon men would be allowed to practice "plural marriage". This was later set down in the Doctrine and Covenants by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[44] Despite Smith's revelation, the 1835 edition of the 101st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, written after the doctrine of plural marriage began to be practiced, publicly condemned polygamy. This scripture was used by John Taylor in 1850 to quash Mormon polygamy rumors in Liverpool, England.[45] Polygamy was illegal in the state of Illinois[46] during the 1839–44 Nauvoo era when several top Mormon leaders, including Smith,[47][48] 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 harsh discipline.[49] 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 left Nauvoo and followed Brigham Young to Utah where the practice of plural marriage continued.[50]

In 1852 Apostle Orson Pratt publicly acknowledged the practice of plural marriage through a sermon he gave. Additional sermons by top Mormon leaders on the virtues of polygamy followed.[51] Controversy followed when polygyny became a social cause, writers began to publish works condemning polygamy. The key plank of the Republican Party's 1856 platform was "to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery".[52] In 1862, Congress issued the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act which clarified that the practice of polygamy was illegal in all US territories. The LDS Church believed that their religiously-based practice of plural marriage was protected by the United States Constitution,[53] however, the unanimous 1878 Supreme Court decision Reynolds v. United States 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."[54]

Increasingly harsh anti-polygamy legislation in the US led some Mormons to emigrate to Canada and Mexico. In 1890, LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff issued a public declaration (the Manifesto) announcing the official discontinuance of polygamy. Anti-Mormon sentiment waned, as did opposition to statehood for Utah. The Smoot Hearings in 1904 spurred the LDS Church to issue a Second Manifesto against polygamy. By 1910 the LDS Church excommunicated those who practiced polygamy. Even so, many plural husbands and wives continued to cohabit until their deaths in the 1940s and 1950s.[55]

Enforcement of the 1890 Manifesto caused various splinter groups to leave the LDS Church in order to continue the practice of plural marriage.[56] Polygamy among these groups persists today in Utah and neighboring states as well as in the spin-off colonies. Polygamist churches of Mormon origin are often referred to as "Mormon fundamentalist" even though they are not a part of the mainstream LDS church. Such fundamentalists often use an 1886 revelation to John Taylor as the basis for their authority to continue the practice of plural marriage.[57] The Salt Lake Tribune stated in 2005 there were as many as 37,000 fundamentalists with less than half of them living in polygamous households.[58]


In Islam, polygamy is allowed for men (making it polygyny), with the specific limitation that they can only have up to four wives at any one time. The Qur'an also clearly 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. If the husband cannot deal with his wives fairly, one is enough. Women on the other hand, are only allowed the one husband (no polyandry), although they are allowed to remarry after a divorce, unlike many other cultures further east. Although many Muslim countries still retain traditional Islamic law which permits polygamy, secular elements within some Muslim societies challenge its acceptability. Polygamy is prohibited by law in some Muslim countries that have not adopted Islamic law for marital regulations, such as Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tunisia and Turkey.

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. 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. Prophet Muhammad, who had a monogamous marriage with Khadija for twenty five years till her death, married many of his wives because they were war widows who were left with nothing and took care of them. Thus, polygamy is an exception rather than the rule and 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,[citation needed] Saudi Arabia, West and East Africa (In Sudan it is encouraged from the president as female population is high).[59] Among the 22 member states of the Arab League, Tunisia alone explicitly prohibits polygamy; however, it is generally frowned-upon in many of the more secularized or Westernized Arab states, such as Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon. Few other countries including Libya and Pakistan require the written permission of the first wife if her husband wishes to marry a second, third, or fourth wife.

Legal situation

Most western countries do not recognize polygamous marriages, and consider bigamy a crime. Several countries also prohibit people from living a polygamous lifestyle.

In some States of the United States, the criminalization of a polygamous lifestyle originated as anti-Mormon laws, although they are rarely enforced.[60]

In diplomatic law, consular spouses from polygamous countries may be exempt from a general prohibition on polygamy in host countries. In some such countries, only one spouse of a polygamous diplomat may be accredited.[61]

Polygamists may find it harder dealing with government agencies, such as obtaining legal immigrant status.

By country

  • Canada: Illegal according to the Criminal Code of Canada, Section 293.[62]
  • China, People's Republic of: Illegal (but tolerated for some minorities, such as Tibetans, in some rural areas in the South West) .
  • Egypt: Permitted for Muslims (up to four wives).
  • Eritrea: Legal in areas under Sharia only (up to four wives).
  • All the 27 countries of the European Union (see special note for the United Kingdom): Illegal.
  • Iceland: Illegal according to the Icelandic Act on Marriage No. 31/1993, Art. 11.[63]
  • Israel: Illegal according to the Penal Code of Israel.
  • Iran: Legal with written consent from the first wife (up to four wives).
  • Libya: Legal with written consent from the first wife (up to four wives). (See Polygamy in Libya.)
  • Malaysia: Permitted for Muslims; required to obtain judicial consent, show financial capability, and several strict conditions. Some variation in law between states (family law relating to non-Muslims is under federal jurisdiction).[64]
  • Morocco: Permitted for Muslims, restrictions apply.
  • Pakistan: Illegal for non-Muslims. Allowed for Muslims, provided the husband takes written permission from his previous wives. This permission is documented at the time of the Nikah and forms part of the Nikah-nama (agreement of Nikah). Currently however, the government is debating whether to remove the requirement to obtain permission from the previous wives
  • South Africa: Legalised for indigenous, black traditionalists by the Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.
  • Tunisia: Illegal.
  • Turkey: Illegal.
  • United Kingdom: Illegal if the marriage took place in the UK, but recognized (for some private purposes; but not for e.g. pension, immigration or citizenship rights) if it took place in another country where the law allows it if the parties were domiciled in that country.[65]
  • United States: Illegal in all 50 states (but see Polygamy in the United States)
  • Uzbekistan: Illegal.


Polygamy existed all over Africa as an aspect of culture or/and religion. Plural marriages have been more common than not in the history of Africa. Many African societies saw children as a form of wealth thus the more children a family had the more powerful it was. Thus polygamy was part of empire building. It was only during the colonial era that plural marriage was perceived as taboo. Esther Stanford, an African-focused lawyer, states that this decline was encouraged because the issues of property ownership conflicted with European colonial interest.[66] Polygamy is very common in West Africa (Muslim and traditionalist). However, the diffusion of Islam to this region has (rather counterintuitively) decreased the prevalence of polygyny in this region [67]

South Africa

In South Africa, traditionalists commonly practice polygamy.[68] The president, Jacob Zuma is also openly in favor of plural marriages, being married to five wives himself and rumored to be courting a sixth. He has a total of twenty children with all these wives.[69][70] The wives live in small houses in a circle around the master compound.[71]


Polygamy is encouraged in countries such as Sudan, where President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has encouraged multiple marriages to increase the population.[72]


The Chinese culture of Confucianism and thus the practice of polygamy spread from China to Korea and areas that are now Vietnam. Before the establishment of the modern democratic mode, Eastern countries permitted a similar practice of polygamy.[73]

South Asia

Polygyny, permitted under Islamic law, is present amongst some Muslims in South Asia. Polygamy is considerably more widespread among Hindus in Nepal than in India.


Polygamy is illegal in India for Hindus and other religious groups under the Hindu marriage Act. It remains legal for Muslims under the terms of The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, as interpreted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Nevertheless, according to the 1961 census (the last census to record such data), polygamy was actually less prevalent among Indian Muslims (5.7%) than among several other religious groups. Incidence was highest among Adivasis (15.25%) and Buddhists (7.9%); Hindus, by comparison, had an incidence of 5.8%.[74]

Polygamy is generally quite rare in urban areas, and among the cosmopolitan middle classes.


In Mongolia, there has been discussion by some tabloids about legalizing polygamy to reduce the imbalance of the male and female population.[75]


Until polygamy was outlawed by King Rama VI, it was expected that wealthy or upper-class Thai men were historically recognized to maintain mansions consisting of multiple wives and their children in the same residence. Among the royalty and courtiers in the past, wives were classified as principal, secondary, and slave. Today, the tradition of minor wives still remains, but the practice is different from that of the past. Due to the expense involved, minor wives are mostly limited to the wealthy men. While a "proper woman" (Kulasatrii; Thai: กุลสตรี) must remain faithful to her husband, there were no equivalent rules in history mandating fidelity in the "virtuous man."

Regardless of the historical acceptance, male polygamy or plural marriage is no longer legally or socially acceptable in the contemporary Thai society. However, the practice of having "minor wives" (Mia-Noi: เมียน้อย) continues in modern days in secrecy from the "primary wife" (Mia-Luang: เมียหลวง).[76] Almost all married Thai women today object to this practice, and indeed for many it has been grounds for divorce.[77] Minor wives are viewed with contempt by the Thai society along the lines of being amoral women or home breakers.[78]


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. Polygamy is a by-product of the tradition of emphasis on procreation and the continuity of the father's family name.[citation needed] Before the establishment of the Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage. Even though before the Communist Revolution, taking concubines were legal, very few men in the Chinese society could afford to have more than one wife. Even for those who are wealthy and powerful enough to do so, taking too many wives was considered immoral. In Confucianism, taking concubines was allowed, but a man must have a just reason for it. For example, if his wife is not able to give birth to a son, he would be allowed to take a concubine. If a man wants more wives for sexual indulgence, it would be unacceptable. It is illegal in modern China to have more than one spouse. Polygamy are seen and tolerated in south west China among Chinese minorities such as Tibetans etc.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, polygamy was banned in October 1971.[79] Some Hong Kong businessmen have concubines across the border in mainland China, but concubines do not have the legal or social status of wives and so this should not strictly be called "polygamy". Kevin Murphy of The International Herald Tribune[80] reports the cross-border polygyny phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995.[81]

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, 偷不如偷不著).[citation needed]

Current proponents and opponents


David Friedman and Steve Sailer have argued that polygamy tends to benefit most women and disadvantage most men, under the assumption that most men and women do not practice 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. Friedman uses this viewpoint to argue in favor of legalizing polygamy, while Sailer uses it to argue against legalizing it.

This same result of polygamy is used to justify it as a way to improve the genetic characteristics in a population. The logic being that women will generally tend to marry men of wealth and health. Wealth has a high corrolation with intelligence, thus polygamy has the effect of increasing the intelligence inside the population that practices it.

In the US, 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.

In Uruguay the "Colorado Party" supports polygamy.[citation needed]

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, USA, is opposed to Utah's law against cohabitation.[82]

Those who advocate a Federal Marriage Amendment to the American Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage generally word their proposed laws to also prohibit polygamy. Many proponents of same-sex marriage are also in favour of maintaining current statutory prohibitions against polygamy.

Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, lamented the modern arguments increasingly being made by various intellectuals who call for de-criminalizing polygamy. Kurtz concluded, "Marriage, as its ultramodern critics would like to say, is indeed about choosing one's partner, and about freedom in a society that values freedom. But that's not the only thing it is about. As the Supreme Court justices who unanimously decided Reynolds in 1878 understood, marriage is also about sustaining the conditions in which freedom can thrive. Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family."[83]


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.[citation needed]

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.[84]

At the present time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) supports enforcing laws against polygamy, although historically this denomination practiced polygamy -- which it considered to be a principle revealed by God, through the church's founder Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon -- and fought vocally against those seeking to establish anti-polygamy laws. The LDS Church renounced polygamy in 1890 as part of the events enabling Utah to become a state of the United States. Today, the church will excommunicate any member found to be practicing polygamy, even in countries where polygamy is legal. However, men in the LDS Church still expect to take multiple wives in the next world after death.[85]

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.

Polygamy in fiction and popular culture

The quip "Bigamy is having one spouse too many. Monogamy is the same." is popularly misattributed to Oscar Wilde.

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."

Science fiction, utopias, dystopias

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, Arab, and other cultures – i.e. desert cultures. Similarly, the Aiel society in Robert Jordan's The 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. Ursula K. Le Guin describes a planet O, where the cultural norm is a "sedoretu" or four-person marriage (a set combination of both genders and sexual orientations). Dan Simmons describes a culture of three-person marriages (any gender ratio) in his book Endymion. In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, the inhabitants of the planet Grayson practice polygamy (polygyny) due to the human colonists to the planet acquiring a genetic defect that gave rise to a large women-to-men birth ratio combined with a high infant mortality. Honor Harrington herself is married to Hamish Alexander as his second wife alongside Emily Alexander. Their surname then becomes Alexander-Harrington. Wen Spencer's science fiction novel A Brother's Price describes a society where men are very rare and protected, and multiple sisters typically marry one man. In the novel Ruins of Isis, mention is made of a culture where a type of group marriage is performed-a group of 4 people minimum, two men, two women to start.

In the Star Trek television series Enterprise, the ship's physician, Dr. Phlox (who is a Denobulan) has three wives, each of whom has three husbands of her own (including him). One of his 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 stated that the Andorian species enter into group marriages (although whether this is due to societal custom or biological necessity has not been firmly established.) 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 Jedi were not supposed to marry at his time; but Ki-Adi-Mundi got a dispense of that norm.

Prehistoric and historic fiction

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 Vincavec, 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.

In the Chinese Wuxia novel The Deer and the Cauldron by Hong Kong writer Louis Cha, set in the Qing Dynasty era during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, the protagonist Wei Xiaobao has seven wives. The novel has spawned numerous film and TV series adaptations since the 1960s, with renowned actors such as Tony Leung, Jordan Chan, Stephen Chow and Dicky Cheung playing the role of Wei Xiaobao.

Contemporary setting

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. A Home at the End of the World is a novel by Michael Cunningham about a polygamous family. It was later adapted into a film. Both explore issues of homosexuality and families. 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 eight 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. Random House published David Ebershoff's novel The 19th Wife in 2008. It is about Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young's wives, and the legacy of Mormon polygamy in the United States today.

See also


  1. ^ Polygamy at
  2. ^ a b Ethnographic Atlas Codebook derived from George P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas recording the marital composition of 1231 societies from 1960–1980
  3. ^ (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
  4. ^ Goldstein, Pahari and Tibetan Polyandry Revisited, Ethnology. 17(3): 325–327, 1978, from The Center for Research on Tibet. Accessed: October 1, 2007
  5. ^ George Monger (2004). Marriage customs of the world: from henna to honeymoons. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. pp. 31. ISBN 1-57607-987-2.,M1. : Bigamy has come to mean the state of being married to two partners at the same time, generally with both partners unaware of the existence of the other.
  6. ^ "Sex Offenses: Consensual - Bigamy". Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. Retrieved 2009-05-10. : The Model Penal Code actually proposes that states consider ordinary bigamy a misdemeanor, but a felony if it is done "in purported exercise of the right of plural marriage," pointedly singling out those few remaining Mormons who believe in polygamy, as well as those from other cultures who accept polygamy. Those from cultures accepting polygamy would receive more severe treatment than one who simply commits a fraud on a spouse who is unaware of a prior marriage. No state actually adopted the misdemeanor/felony distinction proposed in the Model Penal Code, but the proposal indicates one of the factors animating the criminal law in this area. The harm, then, is presumably moral offense to nonparties.
  7. ^ Feinberg, Joel (1986), Harm to Self (Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Vol 3), Oxford University Press, USA, pp. 266, 402, ISBN 978-0195059236,,+Bigamy,+polygamy&ei=Uz8HSomRMYvOkwT9tMigBA#PPA266,M1 : page 266: Strangely enough the Model Penal Code not only makes bigamy a crime whether or not deception is involved, it actually makes the more open variety in which both spouses voluntarily participate without deception (which it calls "polygamy") the more serious crime: "A person is guilty of polygamy, a felony of the third degree, if he marries or cohabits with more than one spouse at a time in purported exercise of the right of plural marriage." The wife (or wives) too would be guilty of the same serious crime. The Code's distinction between the misdemeanor of bigamy and the felony it calls polygamy seems to imply the principle that a trivial crime becomes a serious one when it is openly committed or publicly flaunted by the perpetrators in what they claim to be an exercise of their rights. An obvious target of the proposed polygamy stature are Mormons and others who claim a religious right to multiple spouses. It is difficult to see why the state in normal times should be so frightened of such groups. To be sure the voluntariness of the consent of the added spouses might be suspect, but that would be a ground for nullifying their matrimonial contracts rather than punishing the contractors.
  8. ^ Diouf, Nafi (May 2, 2004). "Polygamy hangs on in Africa". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ The Ethics of Buddhism, Shundō Tachibana, Routledge, 1992, ISBN 070070230X, 9780700702305
  11. ^ An introduction to Buddhist ethics: foundations, values, and issues, Brian Peter Harvey, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0521556406, ISBN 9780521556408
  12. ^
  13. ^ Polygamy: a cross-cultural analysis, Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitze, Published by Berg Publishers, 2008, ISBN 1845202201, ISBN 9781845202200 (as found at Google books)
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Marriages-Divorces section at general information website on Indian laws by Sudhir Shah and Associates
  17. ^
  18. ^ Deuteronomy 21:15–17 from
  19. ^ Judaica Press Complete Tanach, Devarim - Chapter 17 from
  20. ^ Women, similar to wives from
  21. ^ "The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory", David Charles Kraemer, p21, Oxford University Press US, 1989, ISBN 0195054679
  22. ^ Judaism and Polygamy: "Originally, Gershom's ban was limited in time to the year 1260," and a man "could marry more than one wife if he obtained the special permission of 100 rabbis in 3 countries." From
  23. ^ Israel 2008: State of Polygamy
  24. ^ Victims of polygamy
  25. ^ Polygamy's Practice Stirs Debate in Israel
  26. ^ Why not Mr. and Mrs. - & Mrs... & Mrs...?
  27. ^ "St. Augustin on the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises and Moral Treatises: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 1886 Volume 3 of St. Augustin on the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises and Moral Treatises", Editor Philip Schaff,Kessinger Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0766183939 [1]
  28. ^ "On the Holy Trinity; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral Treatises", Schaff, Philip [2]
  29. ^ "On the Holy Trinity; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral Treatises", Schaff, Philip [3]
  30. ^ "The Ratzinger report: an exclusive interview on the state of the Church Pope Benedict XVI, Vittorio Messori", p. 195, Ignatius Press, 1985, ISBN 0898700809
  31. ^ "Morality: The Case for Polygamy", Time Magazine, May 10 1968 [4] and "Christianity and the African imagination: essays in honour of Adrian Hastings", edited by David Maxwell with Ingrid Lawrie, p. 345-346, Brill, 2002, ISBN 9004116680
  32. ^ Catholic Cathechism, para. 2387 April 05, 2009, Vatican website
  33. ^ Letter to Philip of Hesse, December 10, 1539, De Wette-Seidemann, 6:238–244
  34. ^ The Life of Luther Written by Himself, p.251
  35. ^ James Bowling Mozley Essays, Historical and Theological. 1:403–404 Excerpts from Der Beichtrat.
  36. ^ Letter to the Chancellor Gregor Brück, January 13, 1524, De Wette 2:459.
  37. ^ Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ 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).
  41. ^ 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 Nuremberg] (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").
  42. ^ "Emblems of pluralism: cultural differences and the state, Cultural lives of law, Princeton paperbacks,Carol Weisbrod, p. 53, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0691089256
  43. ^ Fisher, Helen (2000). The First Sex. Ballantine Books. pp. 271–72, 276. ISBN 0-449-91260-4. 
  44. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 132 as found at
  45. ^ 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. pp. 8–9
  46. ^ Greiner & Sherman, Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, pp. 198–199
  47. ^ Todd Compton, "A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith's Thirty-three Plural Wives", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 1–38.
  48. ^ Smith, George D (Spring 1994), "Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46: A Preliminary Demographic Report", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (1),, retrieved 2007-05-12 
  49. ^ Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 423, February 1, 1844
  50. ^ Lifting the Veil of Polygamy (2007, Main Street Church) A documentary concerning the history of Mormon polygamy and its modern manifestations.
  51. ^ Journal of Discourses 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."
  52. ^ GOP Convention of 1856 in Philadelphia from the Independence Hall Association website
  53. ^ Free Exercise Clause - First Amendment
  54. ^ Reynolds v. United States at
  55. ^ Polygamy entry in the Utah Historical Encyclopedia, University of Utah, 1994.
  56. ^ "The Primer" - Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities. A joint report from the offices of the Attorneys General of Arizona and Utah. (2006)
  57. ^ "An 1886 Revelation to John Taylor"
  58. ^ "LDS splinter groups growing" by Brooke Adams, August 9, 2005 - SLT Article ID: 10BF07C805DE5990
  59. ^ Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has urged Sudanese men to take more than one wife to increase the population
  60. ^ Turley, Jonathan. Polygamy laws expose our own hypocrisy
  61. ^ Shaw, Malcolm Nathan (2003). International law (5th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 684. ISBN 0521824737.,M1. 
  62. ^ "CBC News in Depth: Polygamy". 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  63. ^ "Icelandic Act on Marriage No. 31/1993". Icelandic Ministry of Justice. 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2009-01-11. 
  64. ^
  65. ^ 1,000 men living legally with multiple wives despite fears over exploitation Times online
  66. ^ Polygamy in Africa - Polygamy in Africa
  67. ^ See Korotayev, Andrey (2004). World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective (First Edition ed.). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0. .
  68. ^ South Africa Polygamy debate
  69. ^ [5] Hundreds arrive in village for Zuma's fifth wedding - ABC News Online
  70. ^ [6] South African President set to marry fifth wife - ABC News Online
  71. ^ Polygamy becomes hot election issue in South Africa at
  72. ^ Omar Hassan al-Bashir has urged Sudanese men to take more than one wife to increase the population
  73. ^ 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]
  74. ^ Puniyani, Ram (2003). Communal Politics: Facts Versus Myths . SAGE.
  75. ^ ?? — article in Chinese
  76. ^ Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors of Thai People, Extramarital Sex
  77. ^ The rights of husband and wife, Family Law in Thailand
  78. ^ A research on Thai view of sexuality and sexual behavior funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted jointly by the Institute of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol University, Bangkok, the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan and the Department of Sociology, University of Washington.
  79. ^ 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
  80. ^ Graeme Lang, Josephine Smart (2002). "Migration and the “second wife” in South China: Toward cross-border polygamy". The International Migration Review 36 (5): 546–569. 
  81. ^ Hong Kong Targets Its Two-Family Men, Kevin Murphy, International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, February 7, 1995
  82. ^ ACLU of Utah to Join Polygamists in Bigamy Fight, 16 July 1999 press release.
  83. ^ "Polygamy vs. Democracy" The Weekly Standard, June 5, 2006
  84. ^ "Law of the Land" page at
  85. ^,38-39,55#1 Doctrine and Covenants 132:55


  • 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. First published in Boston. 
  • Chapman, Samuel A. (2001). Polygamy, Bigamy and Human Rights Law. Xlibris Corp. ISBN 1-4010-1244-2. 
  • Hillman, Eugene (1975). 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 ed.). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0. 
  • Main Street Church (2007; Video Documentary). Lifting the Veil of Polygamy. Main Street Church. 
  • 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

Bigamy is a statutory offence in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and other countries.[which?] It is committed by a person who, being married to another person, goes through a ceremony capable of producing a valid marriage with a second person.

England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland

The offence is created by section 57 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861:

Whosoever, being married, shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife, whether the second marriage shall have taken place in England or Ireland or elsewhere, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for any term not exceeding seven years ... : Provided, that nothing in this section contained shall extend to any second marriage contracted elsewhere than in England and Ireland by any other than a subject of Her Majesty, or to any person marrying a second time whose husband or wife shall have been continually absent from such person for the space of seven years then last past, and shall not have been known by such person to be living within that time, or shall extend to any person who, at the time of such second marriage, shall have been divorced from the bond of the first marriage, or to any person whose former marriage shall have been declared void by the sentence of any court of competent jurisdiction.

This section replaces section 22 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1828, which replaced section 1 of 1 Jac.1 c.11 (1603).

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BIGAMY (from Lat. bis, twice, and Gr. yaµos, marriage), in English law, according to the statute now in force (24 and 25 Vict. c. loo, § 57), the offence committed by a person who "being married shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife." In the canon law the word had a rather wider meaning, and the marriage of a clerk in minor orders with a widow came within its scope. At the council of Lyons (A.D. 1274) bigamists were stripped of their privilege of clergy. This canon was adopted and explained by an English statute of 1276; and bigamy, therefore, became a usual counterplea to the claim of benefit of clergy. However, by an act of 1547 every person entitled to the benefit of clergy is to be allowed the same, "although he hath been divers times married to any single woman or single women, or to any widow or widows, or to two wives or more." A bigamous marriage, by the ecclesiastical law of England, is simply void. By a statute of 1604 the offence was made a felony. This statute, after being repealed in 1828, was re-enacted and reproduced in the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It is immaterial whether the second marriage has taken place within England and Ireland or elsewhere, and the offence may be dealt with in any county or place where the defendant shall be apprehended or be in custody. The following clause embodies the necessary exceptions to the very general language used in the definition of the offence: - "Provided that nothing in this section contained shall extend to any second marriage contracted elsewhere than in England and Ireland by any other than a British subject, or to any person marrying a second time whose husband or wife shall have been continuously absent from such person for the space of seven years then last past, and shall not have been known by such person to be living within that time, or shall extend to any person who at the time of such second marriage shall have been divorced from the bond of the first marriage, or to any person whose former marriage shall have been declared void by any court of competent jurisdiction." The punishment is penal servitude for not more than seven nor less than five years, or imprisonment with or without hard labour, not exceeding two years.

A valid marriage must be proved in the first instance in order to support a charge of bigamy. A voidable marriage, such as were marriages between persons within the prohibited degrees before the Marriage Act 1836, will be sufficient, but a marriage which is absolutely void as all such marriages now are, will not. For example, if a woman marry B during the lifetime of her husband A, and after A's death marry C during the lifetime of B, her marriage with C is not bigamous, because her marriage with B was a nullity. In regard to the second marriage (which constitutes the offence) the English courts have held that it is immaterial whether, but for the bigamy, it would have been a valid marriage or not. An uncle, for example, cannot marry his niece; but if being already married he goes through the ceremony of marriage with her he is guilty of bigamy. In an Irish case, however, it has been held that to constitute the offence the second marriage must be one which, but for the existence of the former marriage, would have been valid. With reference to the case in which the parties to the first marriage have been divorced, it may be observed that no sentence or act of any foreign country dissolving a vinculo a marriage contracted in England by persons continuing to be domiciled in England, for grounds on which it is not liable to be dissolved a vinculo in England will be recognized as a divorce (R. v. Lolley 1812, R. & R. 237). Hence, a divorce a vinculo for adultery, in a Scottish court, of persons married in England, is not within the statute. But if a person charged with bigamy in England can prove that he has been legally divorced by the law of the country where the divorced parties were domiciled at the time (even though the ground on which the divorce was granted was not one that would justify a divorce in England) it will be good defence to the charge. Criminal jurisdiction is always regarded as purely territorial, but bigamy (together with homicide and treason) is an exception to this rule. A British subject committing bigamy in any country may be tried for the same in the United Kingdom (Earl Russell's case, 1901).

In Scotland, at the date of the only statute respecting bigamy, that of 1551, cap. 19, the offence seems to have been chiefly considered in a religious point of view, as a sort of perjury, or violation of the solemn vow or oath which was then used in contracting marriage; and, accordingly, it was ordained to be punished with the proper pains of perjury.

Bigamy was punished in England until the reign of William III. by death, then the penalty changed to life imprisonment and branding of the right hand. An act of George I. still in force lessened the penalty to deportation for seven years or imprisonment for two years with or without hard labour. The Offences against the Person Act 1861 changed deportation to penal servitude.

In the United States the law in regard to bigamy is practically founded on the English statute of 1604, with the exception that imprisonment and a fine, varying in the different states, were substituted instead of making the offence a felony. Congress has passed a statute declaring bigamy within the territories and places within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States to be a misdemeanour (U.S. Rev. Stat. § 535 2). By statute in some states, upon absence cf one spouse from the state for five years without being heard of, the other may marry again without committing bigamy, in other states the period is seven years. In most of the states, prosecutions for bigamy are barred after the lapse of a certain number of years. The marriage wherever solemnized must be a valid marriage according to the law of the place of solemnization; if void there, no prosecution for bigamy can be founded upon it. In some jurisdictions, an honest belief that a prior divorce of one of the parties was valid would be a defence to a prosecution for bigamy, in others the contrary is held.

On the continent of Europe, bigamy is punishable in most countries with varying terms of imprisonment, with or without hard labour, according to the circumstances of the case.

See Stephen, History of Criminal Law; Dicey, Conflict of Laws; Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage Laws (1868).

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki


—Biblical Data.

See Polygamy.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

According to Merrill's "Encyclopedia of Law," ii. 192, bigamy consists in "going through the ceremony of marriage with another while a former husband or wife is still alive and not divorced." This definition finds no place in rabbinical law, according to which, in order to constitute bigamy, the second marriage must be a lawful union. Hence it follows that bigamy can be committed only by a man, since a woman who is neither divorced nor widowed can not enter at all into marriage with another, and any cohabitation is considered adultery.

Rabbinical Prohibition.

In Biblical as in Talmudical times polygamy was a recognized institution; hence there could be no question of bigamy. The singular opinion in the Talmud, that a wife can compel a divorce from her husband if he take a second wife, seems to have remained without following. So long as a man could support them, he was free to have as many wives as he chose, even against the wish of his first wife (Yeb. 65a, below; Maimonides, "Yad," Ishut, xiv. 3). The rabbinical prohibition against bigamy dates from the beginning of the eleventh century; Rabbi Gershon b. Judah of Metz forbade it under penalty of excommunication. His decree was accepted without opposition by the French and German Jews; though not in the Orient and in Spain and Portugal, where his authority was questioned. Polygamy is still actually to be found among the Jews in Oriental countries where it is permitted by the law of the land.

Among the Jews of Europe, bigamy is now a crime in the eyes of religion, because of the prohibibition of Rabbi Gershon, and because custom sanctions monogamy; he who transgresses is excommunicated. A curious suggestion that R. Gershon's prohibition was intended to hold only until the year 1240, the beginning of the fifth millennium of the Jewish calendar (Joseph Colon, Responsa, No. 101), was never recognized; the great majority of the "Posḳim" agree that the prohibition is in perpetuity.

Permissible Exceptions.

The following cases are not to be considered as constituting bigamy. In localities where the levirate marriage (see Levirate Marriage) is practised, a married man is allowed to marry his brother's widow under certain circumstances as prescribed. But this view is steadily opposed by the majority of German rabbis (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 1. 10). The same difference of opinion rules also in the case of a barren marriage; many authorities permit the husband to take a second wife when a union has continued childless for ten years. When a wife becomes hopelessly insane, the husband may take a second wife only when the case has been investigated by 100 rabbis from three different countries, and permission given by them. According to most authorities a man may take a second wife when his first one, of openly immoral character, or one who has without reason abandoned her husband, refuses to go through the usual form of divorce. When a Jewish wife embraces another religion, thus, according to rabbinical sentiment, making it impossible for her husband to live happily with her, the latter may marry again without formality in some localities. In other places, however, the bet din appoints some person to receive a letter of divorce on behalf of the wife (Shulḥan 'Aruk, l.c.). If a Jew commit bigamy, all the resources of Jewish justice are invoked to compel him to divorce his second wife, and the first wife can not be compelled to live with a bigamist. Compare Divorce, Polygamy.

Bibliography: Shulḥan 'Aruk, l.c.; compare especially the, commentaries Bet Shemuel by Samuel b. Uri Phoebus, Beër Heteb by Judah Ashkenazi, and Pitḥe Teshubah by Z. H. Eisenstadt, on the passage; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 116-120.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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