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Polygamy, A Multitude of Marriages

This marriage thing is more complicated than you may think!

Etymology of polygamy

The word polygamy comes from Late Greek polys gamos, which literally translates into “often married.”

Definition

Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse.

Other words associated with polygamy:

polyandry - when a woman is married to more than one husband
polygyny - when a man is married to more than one wife
group marriage - when both a man and a woman have multiple husbands and wives

Occurrence of polygamy

Research done at the University of Wisconsin found that, of 1231 societies listed, 186 are monogamous, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and four had polyandry. However, in many societies, taking on more than one wife is beyond the means of most people, because they do not have enough money to support that large of a family.

As far as religion is concerned, many mainstream religions do not advocate polygamy. Christianity, Hinduism, and most sects of Judaism ban polygamy. Buddhism does not see marriage as a sacrament, therefore it does not give an official ruling on polygamy. Celtic traditions originally allowed for polygamy as well, and that wavered on and off throughout history. One of the most famous (or infamous) religions that allows polygamy is the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith stated that some Mormon men should practice polygyny if they were commanded to do so. Despite the fact that polygyny was the accepted religious practice, it was banned in several states. Mormons fled to Utah, where they continued to practice polygamy. Polygamy became a social issue and was even a part of the 1856 Republican Party’s platform. Although the Mormons claimed to no longer practice polygamy, break off groups as well as a few traditional Mormons still practice polygamy today.

By country, many first world countries have outlawed polygamy. In countries where polygamy is legal, there are typically laws set in place that require a man (or woman) to inform his (her) first wife (husband) about the intent to marry a second wife (husband). Throughout Africa, polygamy has been the more popular way of going about marriage. One man from Kenya had over 100 wives. In Asia, polygamy was practiced until modernization. Many times, in Asia, it was considered typical for a very rich man to have several wives and concubines.

In the US, although polygamous relationships have definitely been outlawed, there are still several groups that support them. For example, generally speaking, the Libertarian Party believes that the government should not preside over marriages. Certain feminist groups also speak out in favor of polygamy; however, many people who normally fight against gay marriage also fight against polygamy. After WWII, Germany tried to pass a law allowing polygamy so that all the soldiers would have two wives.

Today, in the 21st century, anthropologists say that polygamy is going through a “little” revival. In Israel, a former chief rabbi is campaigning for polygamy as well as pilegesh (concubinage). In Africa, polygamy still exists as a protest against colonialism.