Breaking Down The Stigma Around Polygamy

Jun 6 '2021, 11:12 AM | By Chris

Why is Polygamy Illegal?

The reason polygamy and the act of plural marriage as a whole is illegal is complicated. The short answer is: It seems that it’s just easier for lawmakers to keep it outlawed because essentially all systems and policies that America operates on are all built around the concept of two spouse households. Legalizing poly marriages would basically entail an overhaul of all of these systems.  

Now for the long answer, which requires a bit of a history lesson:

Polygamy was outlawed in federal territories in 1862 by the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln (yes… THAT long ago). The act was directed at Mormons who practiced plural marriage and the resulting property dominance this gave them in the Utah Territory. Basically, it was outlawed because the government felt the Mormon church had too much control over land in Utah, which was not yet an official state.

Though enforcement of the law didn’t begin until 1887, the Mormon church had officially discontinued the practice of plural marriage by 1890. This was the only way they would be granted ownership of their assets back, which they received three years later. 

However, existing plural marriages were not dissolved. This group of people broke away from the official Mormon church and called themselves Mormon Fundamentalists. Many of the polygamists in North America, including Kody Brown of Sister Wives, identify as this. We’ll expand on this later. 

Today, plural marriage - referred to legally as “bigamy” - is outlawed in all 50 states and all U.S. territories. It is enforced on a state level, which is why Utah was able to decriminalize polygamy last year. Keep in mind that decriminalizing is different than legalizing. To legalize plural marriage in all U.S. states and territories, a federal law or Supreme Court ruling (like Obergefell v. Hodges) would have to be passed that overturned all state laws that make it illegal. 

The reason this hasn’t happened, like the reason it was outlawed in the first place, is that the tax systems, healthcare system, immigration system, etc. all operate on the basis that you are either single or married to one spouse. This means there would have to be a lot of policy changes and updates to both accommodate plural marriages as well as prevent people from finding “loopholes.”

It’s ironic that as old a practice polygamy is, it’s somehow ahead of its time in terms of the American societal and legal structure. If you’ve ever wondered why poly marriages weren’t legalized soon after same-sex marriages (because even though polygamy is not a sexuality, thus not part of LGBTQ+) it’s partially because same-sex marriage still only permits two people. Plus, there was a much larger push from society for the legalization of same-sex marriage as the LGBTQ+ community is far larger than the poly community.

Explaining the Stigma Polygamy And Polyamory

Several religions practice polygamy around the world. The main (if not only) religion that practices it in the U.S. are the Mormon Fundamentalists we mentioned earlier. This group of people is mainly comprised of descendants from the original fundamentalists that lived in Utah when polygamy was outlawed. 

So, a lot of people were born into the life of a polygamist - many of which didn’t consent to it. These cases raise the issue of consent among polygamous as well as polyamorous relationships, and rightfully so. All parties of a poly relationship should be willing and consenting individuals. If a partner enters a polygamous marriage at a young age and later feels it’s not the right lifestyle for them, they should have every right to leave amicably. 

This is an important issue to acknowledge and face head-on. Though these actions don’t summarize the entire poly community, they do affect us as a whole. Polygamy isn’t a big enough community in the U.S. for people from the outside looking in to know we aren’t all the same. 

That’s why we wanted to write this post: Because it’s important not to hide from the issues that members of our community have created to show that not only do we not condone that behavior, we also won’t enable it. 

It’s also important to note that while polygamy has been practiced religiously, you don’t have to be a member of a certain religion to become a polygamist. The role religion plays on the bias toward poly people isn’t just in the background of our community, but also in the way other conservative religions view us. 

Like we said, the polygamous community is relatively small, especially in comparison to some religious groups such as Christianity, for example. That’s not to say that all Christians automatically disapprove of polygamy but the amount that do, do so loudly. This created a certain narrative that polygamists haven’t had the platform to speak on until recently, though we could use more representation than a reality show or two.

At Sister Wives, we believe you don’t have to limit yourself to being one thing or the other. We welcome people of all different types of faith and backgrounds into the polygamous community. It’s just important to understand the different stigmas toward poly people and the roots of each of them. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a polygamist or just wanting to educate yourself, it’s important to know the background of something in order to truly understand it.

How Society Feels About Polygamy

Though younger generations are increasingly open-minded toward polygamy, some biases still remain. The main stigma around polygamy revolves around the abuse some religious groups have allowed, particularly towards the wives. Obviously, modern polygamists don’t condone or practice that - but it’s understandable why people would assume we all fall under the same umbrella.

There’s also the hyper-conservative group that loudly oppose polygamous and polyamorous marriages the same way they opposed same-sex marriages. The fact is, no matter how much new information you provide them, there are people who will never change their opinions. Which is fine, but they are not the face of public opinion. 

After doing a bit of research online, we found that the majority of people either support modern poly relationships or… just don’t care. There might be a bit of initial surprise when you introduce yourself as polygamous, but more than likely it will wear off after a few rounds of questions. Being poly is a huge part of our identity but it’s not all we have to offer, and good people will be able to understand that and move along.

We hope you found this article insightful and can walk away with a better understanding of the stigma around polygamy. People at the beginning of their poly journey may be intimidated by the biases people may have toward them should they become a polygamist. If you think about it, it’s mainly because you just don’t know what to expect in terms of how people will react. 

Remember, one of the greatest advantages of polygamy and polyamory alike is that you won’t be alone. Not only will you gain partners, but you also gain a community of people who have been where you are and can help. That’s why at Sister Wives, we offer resources including educational articles and several ways to interact with others in the poly community, such as our forum. These things and more are what make Sister Wives the best poly matchmaking site out there!

Published By: Christopher Alesich 

Matchmakers Inc:


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