Plural marriage: marriage with more
than two partners. Christian and Muslim
polyandry, bigamy ....
The following menu and its linked essays are for general information only. Do not use it to make
any personal decisions without first consulting a lawyer knowledgeable about
family law in your area.
The term "polygamy" is a marital practice in which a person has more
than one spouse simultaneously. 1 It
is rare in North America, where only two forms of marriage are most commonly found:
||Monogamy in which two people are married to each other,
"till death do us part," and
||Serial monogamy in which a person has more than one spouse during their
lifetime, although they are married to only one at a given time.
Polygamous marriages are not legal in North America in the sense that none
can be formally registered with the government. However, thousands of polygamous
families exist and are largely ignored by their state and provincial
governments. Many are members of small Mormon religious faith groups that trace their history back to the original Church of Christ founded by Joseph Smith. The two main Mormon denominations oppose polygamy. They are:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members live mainly in the U.S. states of Utah, Colorado and Texas, and in the Canadian province of British
Columbia. They are by far the largest Mormon group in the U.S. and around the world.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the RLDS Church) which changed its name in 2001 to the Community of Christ. They are a much smaller, more liberal group.
Polygamous families in North America generally fall into one of two types:
||Some involve coupling a plural marriage structure with a religion --
generally Christianity -- that is structured as an patriarchal dictatorship
-- a male dominated family structure.
A single husband typically has a married wife in a marriage registered with the
government. Additional women are married in religious ceremonies but not registered. The
latter "wives" are often expected to apply for government welfare as single mothers.
Sexual and physical abuse of children and youths is more common than in conventional families. Male children are
often driven from their towns when they reach their teens in order to artificially generate a surplus of
women for men to marry. These families are often affiliated with relatively small religious groups that are part of
the Mormon movement, although such groups have all been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints which is the main
||Others are single polygamous families scattered across the U.S. and
Canada whose members freely decide to come together to form egalitarian family structures -- families
based on the equality of all adult members. They follow a wide range of
Christian denominations, other religions, or no organized religion. Their structure takes
many forms: one man and multiple women; one woman and multiple men; multiple
women and multiple men. They often prefer the terms polyamorous and polyfidelity to differentiate themselves from patriarchal family structures.
Topics covered in this section:
"Polygamy," WordIQ, at:
Copyright © 2004 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2004-SEP-04
Latest update: 2019-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson