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The term polygamy (many marriages in late Greek) is used in related ways in social anthropology and sociobiology and sociology. Polygamy can be most succinctly defined as a "form of marriage in which a person [has] more than one spouse."[6]

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 each person having only one spouse at a time. 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 relationship 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 even today, including South Africa and most of Southern and Central Africa. [How to reference and link to summary or text]


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, having equal sexual access to her. Polandry 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. (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)[1] It is a rare form of marriage that not only exists among poor families, but also within the elite [2]

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.

Strictly speaking, cohabitation involving three or more sexually-involved people does not count as polygamy unless the participants at least claim to be married.


Bigamy is when one individual is married to two people at the same time; a person doubly married is a bigamist. Many countries have specific statutes outlawing bigamy, making any secondary marriage a crime.

Note that these laws aren't limited to cases of traditional polygamy, where the spouses know about each other. They also cover cases such as a man who breaks up with his wife, and without divorcing her, marries another woman. It even covers the occasional case of a man who sets up a second family with a second wife, keeping his dual marriage a secret from one or both of them. In both of these cases, the effect of these laws is to protect people from being married under false pretenses. One example of such a case might be convicted New Zealand nineteenth century bigamist Arthur Worthington.


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 as is alluded to in the William Cosmo Monkhouse limerick poem:

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, this is just seen 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.

Polygamy worldwide

Countries where polygamy is accepted (green)

According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook derived from George P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas recorded the marital composition of 1231 societies, from 1960-1980. Of these societies, 186 societies were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.

Patterns of occurrence

At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polygyny occurs only rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[3] 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[How to reference and link to summary or text]. 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[How to reference and link to summary or text].

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. [7] Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage. Emperors, government officials and rich merchants had up to hundreds of concubines after marrying their first wives. [8]

In Confucianism, the ability of a man to manage a family, which usually meant more than one wife and set of children, was emphasised as part of the steps of learning for personal growth in Daxue (Great Learning) [9].
Quoting Professor Xu who explained the Confucianism (大學之道)Quoting 徐醒民教授《儒學簡說》: 格物、致知、誠意、正心、修身、齊家、治國、平天下 which Zhu Xi had summarized from the book of Great Learning(Daxue). The 8 learning steps & use
Text quote in Chinese with pronunciation Original text Daxue I. 4 & 5

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. [10]

Situation in Greater China Region

After the fall of Imperial China, polygamy was banned. However, it is not unusual for a married man to take a mistress, who later becomes his next wife[How to reference and link to summary or text].

In Mongolia, there has been discussion about legalising polygamy to reduce the imbalance of the male and female population. [11]

In Hong Kong, polygamy was banned in October 1971. [12][13] [14] However, it is still practised in Hong Kong and Macau. One example of this is Stanley Ho. Another is Lim Por Yen [15]. Some Hong Kong businessmen have concubines across the border in mainland China.[4]

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 three hundred thousand husbands had mistresses in China (1996). In 1995, 40% of extramarital affairs involved an enduring long-term relationship with a stable partner. [16]
International Herald Tribune Kevin Murphy had reported the cross-border polygyny phenomenon in Hong Kong in 1995. [17]

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)[18]

The number of women becoming the secret second wife is ever increasing in Greater China region. The terms 二奶(er nai/ yi nai) & 包二奶(er nai cun / yi nai tsuen) refer to the second woman and the act of having the second woman respectively.[19] Mansions and villages are now nicknamed 二奶村(village of second woman) when a number of secret second wives live. [20]

Polygamy and religion


Both polygamy and polyandry were practiced in ancient times among certain sections of Hindu society. Hinduism during the vedic period seems to have neither prohibited polygamy, nor encouraged 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. As of October, 2006, marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question.[21] There have been efforts to propose a uniform marital law that would treat all Indians the same, irrespective of religion, but this has not occurred as of yet.


Scriptural evidence indicates that polygamy, though not extremely common, was not particularly unusual among the ancient Hebrews, and certainly not prohibited or discouraged. The Hebrew scriptures document approximately 40 polygamists, including prominent figures such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Esau, and David, with little or no further remark on their polygamy as such.[22] The Torah (the first 5 books of what Christians call the Old Testament) 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;[23] and Deuteronomy 17:17, which states that the king shall not have too many wives.[24] One source of polygamy was the practice of levirate marriage, wherein a man was required to marry and support his deceased brother's widow.

In the modern day, Rabbinic Judaism has essentially outlawed polygamy. Ashkenazi Jews have followed Rabbenu Gershom's ban since the 11th century. 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.


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 refraining from extra-marital affairs which would harm the existing relationship between two, in some forms of interpretations. 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 medidations 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 to begin with--hence it is not very well known. (Husbands and wives also engage in Consort Practice together, monogomously.)


Saint Augustine saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy, and wrote about it in The Good of Marriage (chapter 15, paragraph 17), where he stated that though 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 declined to judge the patriarchs, but did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy. In another place, 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]."

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" ), [5] Martin Luther granted the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who, for many years, had been living "constantly in a state of adultery and fornication,"[6] a dispensation to take a second wife. The double marriage was to be done in secret however, to avoid public scandal.[7] . 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." [8] The radical Anabaptists of Münster also practiced polygamy, but they had little influence after the defeat of the Münster Rebellion in 1535. Other Protestant leaders including John Calvin condemned polygamy, and sanctioned polygamy did not survive long within Protestantism. Modern Protestants including Reformed Baptists believe all forms of polygamy are condemned by the Bible in verses such as 1 Timothy 3:2.

"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." Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59 [25].

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 (e.g. not polygamous) relationships. [9]. [26]


See main articles: Plural marriage, Polygamous Mormon fundamentalists.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressly forbids polygamy and excommunicates members found to be practicing polygamy, the most severe penalty the church can impose.[10] Early in its history, however, the Church practiced polygamy in the United States and referred to it as "plural marriage" or "celestial marriage". As early as 1831, Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church, stated he had received a revelation on celestial marriage as practiced by Abraham, David, and Moses, although it was not recorded until 1843 and remained a secret practice until 1852.

The public revelation of the Church's practice of polygamy led to persecution. Many novelists began to write books and pamphlets condemning polygamy, portraying it as a legalized form of slavery. The outcry against polygamy eventually led to the U.S. federal government's involvement and the enacting of anti-polygamy laws. The U.S. Congress made the practice illegal in U.S. territories in 1862 through the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. Many members of the Church were sent to Canada and Mexico to set up communities free from prosecution; for example, Cyril Ogston founded Seven Persons, Alberta.

Although Latter-day Saints believed that their religiously-based practice of plural marriage was protected by the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court had already specifically held in 1878 that LDS polygamy was not protected by the Constitution, in the case of Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145 (1878), under 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." (Id. at 166.) [27] Opponents used polygamy to delay Utah statehood until 1896. Increasingly harsh anti-polygamy legislation penalized Church members, disincorporated the Church, and permitted the seizure of Church property until the Church's leaders issued a declaration (commonly called the Manifesto) ordering the discontinuance of the practice in 1890.

National attention in the United States again focused on potential polygamy among the Church in the early 20th century during the House hearings on Representative-elect B. H. Roberts and Senate hearings on Senator-elect Reed Smoot (the Smoot Hearings). This caused Church president Joseph F. Smith to issue his Second Manifesto against polygamy in 1904. This manifesto clarified that all members of the LDS Church were prohibited from performing or entering into polygamous marriages, no matter what the legal status of such unions was in their respective countries of residence. Despite this, many Mormon leaders continued[How to reference and link to summary or text] to secretly practice post-manifesto polygamy for many years, because the ban on new plural marriage did not nullify existing marriages. Eventually, those involved in such marriages died, but some Latter-day Saints today can remember grandparents and even parents who had married more than one wife during the period prior to the Manifesto.

Since that time, it has been Church policy to excommunicate any member either practicing or openly advocating the practice of polygamy. It was considered a divine revelation from God through the prophet and then president of the church Joseph F. Smith.

Although most Mormons accepted the ban on plural marriage, various splinter groups left the mainline LDS Church to continue the practice of polygamy. 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 refered to as Mormon fundamentalist. The Salt Lake Tribune states there are as many as 37,000 Mormon fundamentalists, with less than half of them living in polygamous households [28]. Most of the polygamy is believed to be restricted to about a dozen extended groups of polygamous Mormon fundamentalists.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that it is improper to call any of these splinter polygamous groups "Mormon." The Associated Press style guide for journalists states: "The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other ... churches that resulted from the split...".[29]

The practice of informal polygamy among these 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 2005, the state attorneys-general of Utah and Arizona issued a primer on helping victims of domestic violence and child abuse in polygamous communities. Enforcement of other crimes such as child abuse, domestic violence, and fraud were emphasized over the enforcement of anti-polygamy laws.


The Qur'an addresses guardians of the orphans to marry the mothers of the orphans that are lawful to them if they fear that they would not be able to do justice to the onerous responsibility of protecting the rights of the orphans and taking care of their wealth and property. Men are allowed to engage in polygamy with two conditions:[11]

  1. Even for as noble an objective as the welfare of orphans, a person cannot marry more than four wives.
  2. If a person is not able to deal justly with all four wives he should not marry more than the number he can be just with. Justice is a value that has to be maintained at all costs and cannot be sacrificed even for such a noble cause.

As the Qur'an states:

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.


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Qur'an encourages wives to adjust and adapt to the situation, but in spite of the wife's efforts, if the family does not remain intact then its not her responsibility. As the Qur'an says:[12]

Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self- restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. But if they disagree (and must part), Allah will provide abundance for all from His all-reaching bounty: for Allah is He that careth for all and is Wise.


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Polygamy for Muslims, in practice and law, differs greatly throughout the Islamic world. In some Muslim countries, polygamy is relatively common, while in others, it is often rare or non-existent.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Tunisia is an Arab country where polygamy is not allowed.

In the Islamic world, polygamous marriages constitute only 1–3 % of all marriages.[13]

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. 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 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

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.

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. These states are emphasizing enforcement of crimes of child abuse, domestic violence, and fraud over the enforcement of the crime of bigamy. 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.

Salt Lake Tribune article about Edith Barlow

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 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. The "Law of the Land" page at provides and addresses more details on that specific issue. legal service Ukraine

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.

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."

On January 13 1524, Luther had written to Chancellor Gregor Brück (1483-1557) [30], saying 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." (De Wette, vol. 2, p.459. # DLXXII - 572. Latin text). Polygamy was practiced in Christianity well into the 17th century, namely in Nürnberg. Currently the vast majority of Protestant congregations take the Catholic view on Polygamy.

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

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

Robert A. Heinlein was a science fiction writer who discussed polygyny, polyandry, group marriage, and line marriage in his works.

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 ("A Christian Polygamy Sourcebook" originally published, anonymously, by James Campbell in 1869).

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 many cases, this involves daughters of polygamous families entering into arranged marriages with much older men who already have a number of wives. In some cases, a man marries a woman who has children from a previous marriage, then marries the children.

Marriage age is often 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. Some polygamists use the Internet. Some join together with a friend.

Many polygamist families exist today that consist of only consenting adults. These families are egalitarian in nature. Many of these families live within the US also. In these families, women as well as the men hold careers and attend school.

In Mormon fundamentalism

Some sects which can be slimly related to Mormonism, that practice or at least sanction polygamy are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Latter-day Church of Christ, the Apostolic United Brethren and the Strangites [31]. 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: 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) URL accessed on May 31, 2006.

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. 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 Lebanon and non-Arab countries with Muslim population, Turkey for example, it is banned. It is also illegal in Tunisia. However, polygamy is still practiced in Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim country, but there are restrictions as to how it can be practiced[14]. 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 who are already married to someone. This form of polygamy is many a times considered "mistress marriages" by critics in the West. In recent times, a few Sunni Islamic scholars like Bin Baaz also accepts marriage similar to this but without and ending term. It is referred to as Nikah Misyar (a marriage to a woman who doesn't live with you), and a few in Egypt practice Nikah Urfi (to consummate, or know one another).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • 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 First published in Boston. URL accessed 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.


  1. (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
  2. Goldstein, Pahari and Tibetan Polyandry Revisited, Ethnology. 17(3): 325-327, 1978, from The Center for Research on Tibet. Accessed: October 1, 2006
  3. includeonly>Diouf, Nafi. "Polygamy hangs on in Africa", The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 2004.
  4. 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.
  5. Letter to Philip of Hesse, Dec. 10, 1539, De Wette-Seidemann, 6:238-244[1]
  6. The Life of Luther Written by Himself, p.251 [2]
  7. James Bowling Mozley Essays, Historical and Theological. 1:403-404 Excerpts from Der Beichtrat.[3]
  8. Letter to the Chancellor Gregor Brück,[4] Jan. 13, 1524, De Wette 2:459. [5]
  9. Fisher, Helen. The First Sex, 271-72, 276, Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-449-91260-4.
  10. “Mormon Fundamentalists”. Newsroom - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  11. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Mizan, Chapter:The Social Law of Islam, Al-Mawrid
  12. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), p. 400
  13. The New Encyclopedia of Islam(2002), AltaMira Press. ISBN 0-7591-0189-2 . p.477
  14. Women's Aid Organisation: Know Your Rights, Polygamy

Additional material



External links


Christian polygamy



Mormon polygamy



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


Jewish polygamy

Greater China Region

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