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Polygamy is one form of a polyamorous relationship that usually denotes a marriage involving three or more people, usually a man having relations and children with multiple women. The term encompasses all of the following:

  • polygyny (the practice of one husband having multiple wives);[1]
  • polyandry (the practice of one woman having multiple husbands);
  • group marriage (the practice of two or more men and two or more women sharing husbands and wives, also known by the slang term swinging); and
  • open marriage (the practice of a married couple who agree to allow one of them, or both, to bring additional sexual partners into the relationship; the partners can be either heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual).

In modern times, opponents of same-sex "marriage" worry that if legalized it would be a step down the slippery slope to polygamy. Recent events to support this claim includes Utah decriminalizing polygamy from a felony to a minor infraction in 2020, and in 2005 the Netherlands (four years after introducing same-sex 'marriage') gave three-people relationships legal recognition through a "cohabitation agreement". Stanley Kurtz wrote:

Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and "polyamory" (group marriage). Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female.[2]

Polygamy, in ancient times, was widespread, but has become less common over time. The most common form of polygamy is polygyny, and the former term is often used to refer to the latter. Polygynous marriages are found in the Old Testament, especially among the early Hebrew kings. The first recorded polygamist was Lamech[3], in the seventh generation from Adam. The book of Deuteronomy gives an inheritance rule for polygynous families.[4] The culmination was Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines; however, the fact that they were from the pagan nations led him down the path of corruption.[5] There was also a practice of giving a maid servant to a husband to sire children in the period of the patriarchs; Scripture refers to such a maid servant variously as a wife[6] and as a concubine.[7] God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, addressed David's polygamy without expressing disapproval:

And Nathan said to David, Thou [art] the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if [that had been] too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. 2Samuel 12:7-8 (KJV)

There are examples of polygamy in the New Testament and it is stated that a deacon is to be the husband of one wife. That the church leaders saw fit to suspend the practice for such a small group, but allow it for everyone else speaks volumes.[8][9] In some Christian denominations today, that has been taken to mean that divorced men and in some cases even widowed men cannot be deacons if they remarry.)

Ashkenazi Jews banned polygyny around A.D. 1000. Sephardi Jews continued to practice it in Islamic lands for some time after that. Yemeni and Ethiopian Jews practice it to this day. Israel forbids polygyny, with the exception that a man with multiple wives who moves to Israel may remain married to his existing wives but not marry additional ones.[10] However, this is due at least in part to an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that requires recognition of all marriages performed abroad, whether they would be legal in Israel or not. (This also applies to same-sex "marriage").

The Qur'an permitted polygyny.[11] The practice was also known among European tribes in pre-Christian Europe and in both China and Japan .[12]

In the modern world polygyny is practiced to some extent in China,[13] among certain sects of Mormons[14] [15](the mainstream Mormon Church outlawed the practice in 1890[16]) and in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.[17]

Polyandry is and has been less common around the world, but it has been practiced. Polyandry is part of traditional Tibetan culture[18] and is practiced by some Native American tribes.[19]

"Group marriage" is likely the least common form of polygamy, but it is practiced. In fact a number of Americans purport to practice just this sort of living arrangement, even though it is not legally recognized as marriage by the state.[20]

The Bible clearly states that marriage, as recognized by God, involves only one man and only one woman;[21] therefore, any other type of "marriage" (whether or not formally legalized) is prohibited, notwithstanding some liberal denominations holding to the contrary.

British opposition

British law has opposed and punished polygamy far more severely than other cultures, even imposing capital punishment for it. Under common law in Britain subsequent marriages were invalid if the first marriage remained in effect.

Reasons for the intense British laws against polygamy could include:

  • polygamy is incompatible with nobility, which has traditionally been foundational to Britain;
  • polygamy creates nightmarish problems of private property under the common law;
  • polygamy makes inheritance, burial, and end-of-life health issues legally unmanageable; and
  • polygamy allowed deceit whereby Englishmen lied to their second wife about marital status, which was unfair to many.

See also


  1. This practice is often called polygamy in practice, but the term shown is the proper one.
  2. Beyond Gay Marriage, Stanley Kurtz.
  3. Genesis 4:19
  4. Deuteronomy 21:15-17
  5. I Kings 11:1-3
  6. Genesis 30:4
  7. Genesis 35:22
  8. I Timothy 3:2
  9. Titus 1:6
  10. Judaism 101: Marriage
  11. "... Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four ..." Koran 4:3-4
  12. Polygyny in Europe and China
  13. Lang and Smart. “Migration and the Second Wife in South China: Toward cross-border polygyny” The International migration review 2002, vol. 36, no2, pp. 546-569 [1]
  14. News story on Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints
  15. As polygamy is officially illegal everywhere in the United States, a person (usually the man) will legally only marry one spouse, but "marry" the others in a "religious ceremony" that has no legal standing. The show Sister Wives features such an arrangement involving the Brown family, consisting of Kody (the male), his "legal" wife Robyn, and his "spiritual" wives Meri (who was his previous legal wife; he legally divorced Meri to legally marry Robyn so he could officially adopt Robyn's children), Janelle and Christine (the latter two have never been legally married to Kody).
  16. LDS official position
  17. Brown, Judith E. “Polygyny and Family Planning in sub-Saharan Africa” Studies in Family Planning, Vol. 12, No. 8/9 (Aug. - Sep., 1981), pp. 322-326. Abstract. [2]
  18. List of references
  19. Polyandry among the Inuit [3]
  20. Kurtz, Stanley, “Rick Santorum Was Right Meet the future of marriage in America.” New Republic Online 3/23/05 [4]
  21. ICorinthians 7:2