Although controversial, polygamy won't be disappearing anytime soon.

Defenders of polygamy insist their lifestyle should be protected as a matter of religious freedom, but not everyone sees it that way.


When asked, most people will probably characterize polygamy as a relic of the past. After all, it was outlawed in the United States way back in the mid-1800s. How could it possibly still be happening?

Contrary to popular understanding, polygamy lives on in the United States.

The unique family arrangement, while largely forbidden, has long existed in secret – primarily confined to remote communes in places like the rural Southwest.

However, the tide may finally be starting to turn, as deeply-rooted polygamist communities have begun to dissolve.   

Polygamy in the United States

Here in America, the practice of having multiple wives has long since been banned by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). However, it has maintained a foothold in fundamentalist Mormon communities.     

Warren Jeffs with a child bride

Warren Jeffs posing with his child bride.

These fundamentalists commonly refer to plural marriage as “living the principle” – a traditional Mormon belief that men must “seal” as many souls to themselves as possible to be successful in the afterlife, known as the “celestial kingdom.” To do so, they endeavor to marry multiple women and father a large number of children with each woman.   

Despite the church leadership turning its back on this teaching, off-shoot Mormon sects continued to practice polygamy in secluded communes.

A Predatory Problem

Although authorities were aware of these communes, a “live and let live” attitude was adopted. If multiple women wanted to share a husband and raise a large family together, were they really hurting anybody?

However, a glaring issue began to arise in this system: child marriage. The desire to grow their families led older men to marry younger and younger women in the commune. Disturbing reports began escaping about girls — some as young as 12 or 13 years old – being married off to men in their 80s.

One of the most notorious of these places is a town called Hildale, Utah. The town’s former leader, Warren Jeffs, has since been arrested and sent to prison on felony charges of child sexual assault.

After years under the grip of fundamentalism, Hildale is now in a period of transition – the FLDS influence waning and more “outsiders” are moving in. In fact, the town just recently elected its first ex-FLDS mayor.

Indonesian polygamy app

A Tinder-style app allows Indonesian polygamists to connect online.

Growing Worldwide

Polygamy may be struggling to keep its foothold in the United States, but not so in other countries. Of the 48 nations where the practice is legal, nowhere does its popularity match that found in Indonesia.

Considered taboo for many years, the practice has made a resurgence in recent years with the help of digital technology. An Indonesia developer sparked controversy earlier this year when he released a Tinder-style app called “Ayo Poligami,” which roughly translates to “Let’s do Polygamy.” The smartphone app allows men to search for new wives online and bring them into the family.

While only 5% of Indonesians practice polygamy, that amounts to roughly 13 million people – a number that’s set to grow thanks to the convenience of the digital age.

The Future of Polygamy

Who knows what the future of plural marriage looks like. Although perhaps on its way out in the United States, case studies in places like Indonesia show it’s clearly not going away anytime soon.  

When asked why they’ve taken multiple wives, many polygamists say that it’s a matter of sincere religious belief – that they’ve had a calling from God to create a large family. But as tales from secret communes show, polygamy can lead down a dark road. Critics argue that this reason alone is cause to crack down hard on people who practice it. Defenders, on the other hand, insist this is a matter of religious freedom, and that the beliefs of polygamists should be respected. After all, who’s to say that God doesn’t approve of their conduct?

But just because polygamy stems from religious principles, does that mean it should be allowed?

 

39 comments

  1. Lee Conner says:

    I have no problem with polygamy. I have a problem with child marriage though. I also have a problem with a family having more than two kids per wife. The planet is already overpopulated. Laws should be passed to keep people from having more than two kids per wife or woman in the household as far as that woman being married goes. I mean if a woman has more than one husband she still should only have no more than two kids. If a man marries more than one woman, the same should apply. There are less women in the world then men, so if a woman wants more than one husband it shouldn’t be an issue. However, there are far more men in the world than women. Still, if the people in the home all agree that there can be more than one spouse as long as they are 18 or older, I think it should be fine. No one should dictate to another person on this one. As long as the people are of legal consenting age to do as they please as long as they aren’t hurting anyone physically or emotionally/mentally. Children are children. They aren’t old enough to make such decisions, and shouldn’t be put in such situations. As for the part that I spoke of on limiting how many kids are born, I don’t believe in abortion either, so if a person has a pregnancy where multiple babies are likely, they can give one up for adoption, or one of the other mothers can adopt the child giving up their right to have one or two children depending on how many kids she has or doesn’t have. There are plenty of women out there in the world that would give their right arm to have a child where some women don’t like kids, don’t want kids, and so forth. Some people just aren’t fit to have kids, so I also think we should start licensing people to either be able to have kids or not. I know that it isn’t fair for some religions, but like it or not, no one is coming from heaven or anywhere else to fix this planet. It is up to us to either get along or shut up and die peaceful deaths as we kill ourselves slowly from the overpopulation we are causing and polution we are causing, the deforestation, and so forth. The planet could have billions of years just like our sun if we treated it with the love and respect that we want from the bugs and insects that we have around us co-habitating the world. Treat the world the way you want the bugs to treat you…oh wait, most people step on them…I guess we are bug juice.

    1. Terry Tutor says:

      So in other words become another China? If you’re going to recognize it as a form of religious freedom then you have to take it all. It should be up to the family how many kids they have.

    2. Rick Pascal says:

      Most men have enough problems keeping one wife happy. Two or more??????

    3. Anna Brown says:

      Lee, I certainly agree with you about the overpopulation problem on this planet. Because humans are at the top of the food chain, they consume lots of resources. China realized it had this problem and tried to regulate procreation. First we all need to recognize that it is a global problem and then try to change how cultures view childbearing. I for one have done my part in not having children. I also think if you need a license to drive a car, you should at least have to take some classes/tests to help prepare you for this life altering experience & the HUGE responsibility of raising a child.

    4. Sal says:

      Sorry to tell you, but you are terribly uninformed. There are actually more women than men in the world, at about 51% women. If you would like a full explanation, I’d be glad to provide one. The short explanation is that in times of stress, women tend to lose male fetuses. This is an evolutionary advantage as one man can fertilize many women, but not the other way around.
      Furthermore, we are not overpopulated as of yet. Our population is going quickly, yes, but we still have enough food and living space, meaning we have not reached “overpopulation.”

    5. Ron says:

      The planet is over populated? Who appointed you to determine this?

  2. Barry says:

    No.There are many strange Religious ideas/customs out there.Law is the law
    In the USA.

    1. James says:

      Law is formed by the majority agreeing that something is wrong and causes harm. That is a steep scope.

      1. oberon123456 says:

        That’s actually completely untrue. Large bodies of law are based on what is right, not what most people want. After all, most people wanted slavery.

        1. Amber Fry says:

          Yes, and then slavery was outlawed because times changed and most people wanted slavery revoked.

        2. Minister Randy says:

          That’s actually not true eighter . Law is based most part on feeling not what’s right or wrong bc that is subjective . Ask a person who’s a pedafile they’ll say having sex with a child is right , but others would say there needs to be a certain age placed on the ability to consent and a restriction on the age difference if one is a minor to protect the minor . Both groups feel their in the right bit what’s right is determined by the majority in most cases . Proof in the 1940’s a man who was 21 could marry a 13 year old girl, bc the opinion of the majority of society at that time thought that was right . Now that isn’t allowed bc the current society says it’s not right .

  3. James says:

    I don’t believe that a child under the age of reason should ever be married. But if a few women want to marry one guy. Well, they are adults. Then, if homosexuals can get married, why can’t more than one woman to a man? Is it the number of what? Now why does the govt have any day in marriage? Why it’s it or business. The only thing I can see wrong is the very young being married off. But that’s me, and I can only live with one woman. Ha, a better man than I could live with me than one wife.

    1. Amber Fry says:

      Sure, the same could be said for a woman wanting more husbands as well. Why not?

    2. janice Ellery says:

      Since the flood gate has already been opened, I believe it is just a matter of time before a Mormon or Muslim man challenges marriage laws and argues he should be allowed to have more than one wife. He can use the same legal reasoning gays did. I would not be surprised if the supreme court eventually rules laws against only having one spouse discriminate.

      1. nick kazell says:

        I couldn’t agree with you more, janice. This is a slippery slope we’ve been sliding down since blacks started marrying our white daughters. Once that abomination was put in place, gays used those same arguments for queer marriage and now here we are looking at Muslims kidnapping and marrying a bunch of little girls each. We are one step away from marrying a tree or duck.

        1. Terry Tutor says:

          So Nick, blacks and whites marrying each other is an abomination? Well what a very racist thing to say. We are all one race the human race and morons like you and your racist leanings are cause of most of the problems today.

  4. Rich says:

    the law is the law….. hummmm with the influx of Islam there are MANY Polygamous relationships getting paid housing and welfare…. That aside the laws either apply EQUALLY to all or they are not just laws and should be done away with…. That said what CONSENTING ADULTS decide to do is their issue not mine *** as long as it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pockets **** Largely the government should stay out of our bedrooms….

  5. oberon123456 says:

    I’m fine with whatever consenting ADULTS do. Marrying off children is disgusting and clearly child abuse. That said, one of the issues with the fundie Mormons is that they also claim welfare in huge numbers. Want all of those kids? Then pay for them yourself. There is simply no excuse for raising litters of humans. We’ve destroyed enough of the natural world as it is. There needs to be fewer of us, not more.

  6. Rev. Nancy Willingham says:

    Welfare abuse and child abuse both bad. However, consenting adults who can afford to have as many children as they want should be allowed. And it should not be limited to one man and multiple wives. Two couples could marry and form a four person marriage. Or one woman and multiple husbands. In fact, 3 or more adults in a marriage would be far better than the current “single mom” trend, which fills our prisons with fatherless young people. There would be a better chance of a stay at home mom or dad if two or more spouses were working, etc. If a spouse wants out of a plural marriage, he or she should have the same rights as current divorce rights provide. As it is, a spouse in an “illegal” plural marriage has no rights and may be trapped, just as women were in the past when divorce was hard to get and favored the husband. Under common law, the husband always got the kids! Those traditions were abandoned in favor of women’s rights. Not all traditions should be preserved. Times change.

  7. rabbi jim says:

    Greetings fellow faithful! If people want 100 wives or husbands, SO WHAT! To each their own. Who cares! I choose to remain single and am enjoying every minute of it and have for 64 years! I’m married to my faith and hobbies, and loving it!!!!! Shalom, and have a wonderful day and holiday season!!!!!!

  8. Mathayus says:

    Here’s how I look at it, if you married three women, and father six kids, can you really afford that? Odds are no. Unless all four adults are working high paying jobs.

  9. Carl Elfstrom says:

    I guess marriage is a way for child molesters to get away with it. I wonder how many perverts became Mormons for that reason, how many Mormons have multiple child wives, and how many of them are convicted sex offenders. All in the name of God, eh? I wonder what percentage of people misinterpret God and religion to justify their derelictions. I’m sure the number is staggering. Still, child molestation is child molestation by any name you call it. Marriage is something which I know nothing about. Of course I’m only fifty four. Maybe I set my ideals for a mate too high. Then again, I really like being a bachelor, and never thought I’d make a good parent. I wonder how many people question themselves about that before they have a bunch of kids and ruin their lives. It seems to me that children are best raised by a mother and a father (one of each gender(and decent morals), in a home.I can’t see how there can be a high level of love, intimacy, and nurturing in a home outside that construct, or how a father could take the time needed to establish intimate, nurturing relationships with multiple wives and multiple children in multiple families, all at the same time. That requires quite a balancing act, and I seriously doubt that anyone is capable of such a fantastic feat. Not only do we have too many people in this world, but we have too many bad people , and many of them got that way by the way they were raised. That’s why I’m against polygamy and child marriage, rega rdless of religious beliefs. And if that sends them to hell they’ll just have to go to hell, until they change their beliefs.

    1. Nevik Smithtree says:

      yeah because only polygamist are pedophiles- NOT!!! fact: most kids are molested by RELATIVES!!!! you talk as if all kids are raised by 2 parents. i was raised only by my mom, my dad was a deadbeat and never there! he just wanted to keep going out and hooking up with random women. at least a polygamist is there for his kids and his wives

    2. Arvel Bird says:

      I have good friends who were thrown out of the Jeffsplig group back in 2000 Y2k debaukle. In this group the women choose the husband they want to be sister wives with. My observation is that they are not seeking deep intimate relationship with the husband, which is not the point of their marriage. These women want children and lots of them. They see their greatest fulfilment as a woman in giving child birth. The husbands work like dogs trying to earn enough money and are gone a lot from home.

  10. Nevik Smithtree says:

    it should be legal everywhere, it is a religious practice for most. plus separation of church and state should mean that the state should have no say so in whom ANYONE marry. as long as all involved are of legal age and freely wants to. also what prevents a man from just living with several women and have kids with them anyway? after all it is only a piece of paper….

    1. Devin says:

      True it’s just a piece of paper it matters what you feel for your partner what counts. Yes state should stay out.

      1. Anna Brown says:

        Well, the state/government was involved in marriage long before the church. Marriage is a legal binding contract. With that said, I agree that if a person of legal age (again government involvement) wants to marry someone, anyone, not sure there is a problem. For me personally, I want to see the legal age of consent raised to at least 18 across this country.

    2. Anna Brown says:

      Not so sure about the “religious practice” comment. I guess if you are Mormon that might hold water, but what about all those guys in the old testament? Having many wives was about wealth.

      As for the state comment & only a piece of paper: the state/government was involved in marriage long before the church. Marriage is a legal binding contract. With that said, I agree that if a person of legal age (again government involvement) wants to marry someone, anyone, not sure there is a problem. On a personal note, I want to see the legal age of consent raised to at least 18 across this country.

  11. Grizz Nightfire says:

    What takes place between CONSENTING ADULTS is no business of anyone, including the government. As Nevik said what’s to stop them from living together and having all those kids anyway.

  12. Sue Jenkins says:

    This photo is wrong. THe women have to wear conservative wedding dresses. That means short sleeves. If you watch Say Yes To The Dress I daresay none of those dresses would be appropriate ie sweetheart necklaces, sleeveless, shear panels, Pnina Tornea.

  13. Bill Fox says:

    Polygamy is not a Judeo-Christian issue. The Roman Empire was a monogamous society that imposed it’s secular values on Judeo-Christians. Buy the time Islam evolved, the influence of the Roman Empire had shrunk into what was then the Roman Catholic Church.

  14. Father Fred says:

    Two separate issues; child marriage, and polygamy. And each issue can be supported either way based on numerous circumstances. Let’s first deal with the one causing the most outrage.

    If you were to ask 100 people what the age should be, your answers would be all over the board.

    When I asked this question 5 years ago I received a wide response of 13 to 21. You then have to ask the question of why there is an 8 year span. Even in one congregation of people who you believe to be “normal” there is dissent based upon several factors from the puritanistic suggestion that both sexes must wait till they are of older and “legal” age, to the thought that as long as the couple knows each other well and accept the commitments it is OK. This latter is often born in small communities where everyone knows everybody, and family linage seems to be important.

    But there are some people who feel that somehow the marriage laws should parallel the liquor laws. In other words, if 21 is the age to drink, then it should be the legal age to marry. And just to be clear, when talking about the legal age I’m speaking of males and females of the same age or perhaps two years apart.

    There seems to be a wide acceptance in older demographics versus younger. An 18 year old male marrying a 13 or 14 year old girl is often looked at in contempt. However I’ve seen many marriages of 20 years difference accepted because they were both older, (30s to 60s).

    Then let’s look at the 60 something American male marrying the 20 something Philippine female. To some this is repulsive and creepy, to others it’s not. And in the eyes of most Philippine parents their 20 year old daughter marrying a 60 something American man, who is comfortable in his income and seeking a non-nefarious relationship, with the idea of family (children) is encouraged.

    So now we’re back to the question of how young is to young, and what is the acceptable age division between partners?

    That leaves us with Polygamy. Again we’re met with the Bible v. man’s law, and more to the point the perceptions and opinion of people. I do find it interesting that those supporting polygamy often do so with the idea of unity and family. Those not supporting it seem to base their opinion on personal ideals and to a lesser extent the possession question of why can a guy have two or more wives when a lady can’t have two or more husbands.

    I’ll just say this on the subject of polygamy; I know some families who are a whole lot spiritual, religious, and better at raising children than some couples I also know. To close, I don’t think you can answer the question of polygamy or age, because we are basing our comments on personal opinion and perceptions rather than specific scientific or unified theological reasons.

  15. Minister Timothy Calrstead says:

    I don’t care what they do because they will find out what will happen when Jesus comes back. Because every Tom, Dick, and Harry<—–( Thomas, Richard, and Henry) will have their day of Judgment. So if they want to marry multiple women and not listen to anyone else be my guest they will find out pretty soon.

    1. Sheena says:

      I care. If some gready woman gos and gets with evry hairy dick and tom, there will be no moor guys for me 🙁

  16. Del says:

    Why does the “question” of polygamy leading to child marriage sound a lot like the “question” of gay marriage leading to pedophiles? Perhaps because the same flaw in logic is used. You only hear about the police cases, where something bad happened. You never hear about the quietly successful folks. The news doesn’t feature gay couples that aren’t raping kids, nor polygamous families that aren’t raping kids.

    “Breaking News! Someone isn’t doing anything wrong!” No? No a typical headline?

    In the cults you have “justifications” for various sexual controls or excesses. Some cults are no sex, some are free sex, some include child sex. “Religious polygamy” is just one of a cults excuses for child sex. The cult and the predators are the problem. Adults banding together as a family isn’t.

  17. Devin says:

    It’s funny here(USA)back in the day girls married older guys. Now it’s 18 in some States 17 in others California it’s 18 or you have to take a class/meeting I did back in 98 plus your parents signature. 21 to drink and so on. But now go outside the USA marriage is different ages and drinking there countries that allow under 21 to drink. There teenager smarter than some adults. Most people are brain washed not to look at the whole picture or outside of the box. Only what they were told is what is right and everything else is wrong. If it’s consensual and no one is being harmed then it should be no problem. And yes there are places that women have multiple husband because there’s not enough family land to divide up so brother’s would marry one woman and sometimes she would take care of the youngest boy as like a son and when he gets old enough he becomes her husband. So it’s not just religion.

  18. Ethan Shroud says:

    I am finding myself curious to what happens when your spouse wants to marry someone else and you want nothing to do with them? I am also curious to how divorce assets are handled? Parental rights. The legal side would be a nightmare for everyone except lawyers. They would love the financial win fall of this.

  19. Rev. Dr.Michael says:

    First off all these comments do not take in regard that God and his son Christ makes rules and God does not care about man’s laws EVER! God only asks that we do our best to follow them. This is why when God made man and that man Adam was alone for 1000 years approx before God told Adam he would give him a women to serve him as Adam is to serve God!!! In that order and no other way regardless of satan’s feminist misinterpretation. God gave Adam his first wife to serve him and her name was lillith made from the dirt, she would not obey Adam or Obey God so she was sent out of the paradise of Eden she went to breed with africans and invented mother earth authority aka Satans domain. God then decided to Make Adams wife from a piece of him ie his rib with stardust blessed by God and her name, he gave her was Eve who served Adam and gave him many children that in turn from the process of incest gave us the genetics of Good vs the evil genetics lillith and her white nile basin people that formed africa to this day. As a genetics expert and history major and spent 100 of hours in the only true library of God and Christ writings including book of MAry the vatican library has the only true writings few will ever see or have the experts sit and explain their interpretations. God and Christ said specifically for men under God and Christ to go forth and prosper with as many women as they can PERIOD!!! Thats Gods LAW not mans. Its a black and white issue with no middle regardless of mans laws disrespecting Gods OVER RULING LAW! Christian men know they love and respect that God gave them women to serve them and they should protect and love them dearly for it. God states in his laws and polygamy is just one of many laws he gave us. Our only discretion is not to harm or abuse his children or he will punish us. We are to stay the course and if we are true Blood of Christ Christians then there is no exception again regardless of fake christian propaganda that states otherwise!!! Satan is strong but God, Christ, and his Angels lead by Michael are far stronger as the final battle is unfolding today ! True Christians need to know the original writings so they can judge for themselves what side of the fence they wish to obey as each judgement will then clarify their outcombs and destiny by God and Christs own hand!!! God bless Polygamy AMEN

  20. Andrew white says:

    For a time, God did permit a man to have more than one wife. (Genesis 4:19; 16:1-4; 29:18-29) But God did not originate the practice of polygamy. He provided only one wife for Adam.

    God authorized Jesus Christ to reinstitute His original standard of monogamy. (John 8:28) When asked about marriage, Jesus said: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’”—Matthew 19:4, 5.

    One of Jesus’ disciples was later inspired by God to write: “Let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:2) The Bible also states that any married man in the Christian congregation who is given special responsibilities must be “a husband of one wife.”—1 Timothy 3:2, 12.

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