Is polygamy legal in America?

Introduction: Is polygamy legal in America?. Polygamy is generally illegal in the United States. Polygamous relationship involves having multiple spouses simultaneously, which is prohibited by laws in all 50 states. The legal stance on polygamy has evolved, shaped by historical, cultural, and religious factors.

In the early years of the United States, polygamy was practiced by some religious groups, notably the Mormons or fellows of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). However, polygamy was scrutinized as the nation expanded, and conflicts arose over statehood and religious freedom.

Marriage, divorce proceedings, and further family law matters are governed by state law. All U.S. jurisdictions prohibit polygamy, invalidating marriages involving more than two spouses. State laws against marriage — marrying someone while still legally wedded to another person — are usually grounds for annulment.

Like a divorce, an annulment ends the marriage. However, unlike divorce, a successful action seeking annulment can render the marriage null and void from its alleged inception.

Is polygamy legal in America?
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What do Americans think about polygamy?

Today, mainstream Latter-day Saint practitioners are more hostile to polygamy than other Americans. Frank Newport noted for Gallup in 2020 that Americans who identify their religion as Mormon in polling by a global analytics firm since 2003 are “slightly more likely than the sample average to find polygamy morally acceptable.” were less.”

From a social point of view, polygamy has always been highly unpopular in America. But it seems that opinion is transforming. According to the 2022 Gallup Values ​​and Beliefs Poll, a journal percentage of Americans — 23 percent — believe polygamy is “morally acceptable.”

Although far from consensus, this figure is up from 20 percent in 2020, sixteen percent in 2015, and 5% in 2006—the lowest percentage since the inquiry began in 2003. Spouse morally acceptable. (This indicates that many Americans who accept polygamy see it as a traditional, monogamous marriage regarding “faithfulness”).

Ever since the United States government issued the first federal prohibitions on the practice of polygamy—modernly rechristened “plural marriage” by the LDS Church—proponents of the method have tried to argue that Such restrictions amount to an unconstitutional violation of their rights for the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Historical background of polygamy

In the 19th century, the federal government took a strong stance against polygamy, viewing it as a threat to the traditional institution of monogamous marriage. This led to a series of permitted actions aimed at curbing the practice.

The most significant was the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, which made polygamy illegal in U.S. territories. Subsequent laws, such as the Edmunds Act of 1882 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, further criminalized polygamy and targeted those who practiced or advocated it.

The legal battle over polygamy came to a head when the LDS Church officially renounced the practice in 1890 as a condition for Utah’s admission as a U.S. state. This marked a turning point in the legal status of polygamy in the U.S., as the church’s decision to abandon the practice was seen as a crucial step toward aligning with the laws of the land.

While polygamy remains illegal in the United States, there have been occasional cases of individuals or groups attempting to challenge these laws on religious freedom grounds. These legal challenges have typically been unsuccessful, as courts have ruled that the prohibition on polygamy is constitutional and does not violate the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.

It’s important to note that there are variations in how the laws against polygamy are enforced in different states. In some cases, people may face criminal charges if they attempt to enter into multiple marriage contracts or claim multiple spouses for legal purposes. Nevertheless, the enforcement of these laws can vary, and the sentences can range from fines to detention, depending on the jurisdiction.

It’s also worth mentioning that some individuals may engage in informal or spiritual Polygamous relationship without obtaining legal recognition for these relationships. While these arrangements may not be legally recognized as marriages, they can still raise complex legal and social issues, particularly regarding inheritance, custody, and property rights.

In recent years, discussions about polygamy have occasionally resurfaced in the public discourse, often in the context of debates about marriage equality and individual rights. Some advocates argue that consenting adults should be free to enter any relationship, while others emphasize the potential for exploitation and abuse within polygamous arrangements.

When is polygamy prosecuted?

In 2020, Utah passed Senate Bill 102, which reduced the offense of polygamy from a felony to a misdemeanor in most cases. (A violation is punishable by a fine of up to $750 and never includes jail time.)

But Polygamous relationship is still a crime in Utah if force, threats, or fraud accompany it. These are all past crimes that have been filed against the FLDS. In 2017, Lyle Jeffs, who officially assumed administration of the FLDS when his brother Warren Jeffs was sentenced, pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud.

Senate Bill 102 was disagreed by the anti- Polygamous relationship activist group Sound Choice Coalition, which includes women fleeing polygamous marriages, in a statement released momentarily after the report was passed.

Most of those living in these radical polygamous groups and families are treated as property, compelled to work without pay, trafficked as daughters, forced to have unwanted sex, and given birth to countless children they cannot care for.

Conclusion: Is polygamy legal in America?

In conclusion, Polygamous relationship is not legal in the United States. The practice has a complex history shaped by religious beliefs, legal battles, and societal norms. While the legal prohibition on polygamy has been consistently upheld, debates about its place in modern society continue to spark discussions about individual rights, religious freedom, and the state’s role in regulating personal relationships. Presently, every state has a law outlawing polygamy.

Besides, the federal government has several laws that criminalize Polygamous relationship. Enforcement of these rules is relatively difficult given the often-clandestine nature of many polygamists and the truth that most will have only one wedding on paper.

As a result, many of these laws seek to target people who live with more than one member of the opposite sex. But these laws are problematic given the growing number of people who may have multiple mixed-sex roommates. 

Also read: What is a polygamist?; Adultery vs Polygamy; Monogamy vs polygamy

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