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.”


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

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