It's a wide belief between Islamists in my country that in the West, men are not allowed to marry more than one woman even if all parties (both women and the man) accept it,

As Islamists view it, this is a restriction of freedom, because those people are not hurting anybody.

In the USA, is this the case?

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    I guess we are talking about polygamy, here is a map. womanstats.org/substatics/…
    – GEdgar
    Jun 28, 2015 at 13:44
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    I have focussed this question to talk just about whether polygamy is permitted, and not about the motivations - which are about political opinions, not empirical evidence. I believe it should be sufficient to show that it is illegal in at least one US state to answer the question.
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 28, 2015 at 14:36
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    The word "marry" doesn't mean the same thing in the Islamist view than it does in the standard Western view. In Islam married means a relationship blessed by an Imam. US laws on the other hand recognize people as married when they are officially registered by the state as married.
    – Christian
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:24
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    @DavidRicherby: there's a notable (but extremely widely-attributed, to "Islamists in my country") claim that it's illegal. Jun 29, 2015 at 8:45
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    Would it be a restriction of freedom to prohibit a woman from marrying more than one man? Jun 29, 2015 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


There is an aspect of this that is overlooked by the question and the existing answers. In most US states, there are no laws regarding people living as if they were married without being legally married. (Such laws are on the books in a few states, but they are not enforced, and would likely be struck down as unconstitutional if challenged in court.) It is very common for monogamous couples to live together for years before getting married, or never get married at all.

So in practice, people can and do practice polygamous lifestyles. The practice of polygamy without legal recognition is commonly called polyamory, and it is widely practiced, as evidenced by the large number of references that can be found about the legal and emotional challenges faced by people who practice it. Advocates of polyamory define and distinguish it from other types of extralegal relationships. This page lists some of the challenges they face due to lack of legal recognition. In many ways, these are similar to the challenges faced until just a few days ago by homosexual couples.

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    Polygamy is defined as being married to multiple spouses. Cohabiting with multiple partners in a romantic relationship is polyamory. The question is specifically asking about polygamy, not "living together as though married" which would be polyamory.
    – user19022
    Jun 29, 2015 at 4:54
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    @Snowman It's relevant because in some cultures, particularly theocratic ones as mentioned by the OP, legal marriage and religious marriage are one and the same, and all other relationships are prohibited. The way the question is phrased, it may not have occurred to the OP that in the US, there is a gray area between "officially sanctioned" and "forbidden," in which many people effectively practice polygamy. Jun 29, 2015 at 5:01
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    @Snowman For example, you could be "religiously married" to more than one person but legally single or only married to one of your partners. Jun 29, 2015 at 5:55
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    You answered about living together, whereas the question is about poligamy. Jun 29, 2015 at 14:54
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    while a good point, you haven't really answered the OP question. I would first address rather legal marriage is possible, then get into the point you have below. Otherwise, as good a detail as it may be, it technically is off topic.
    – dsollen
    Jun 29, 2015 at 15:40

Bigamy - marrying another person while still being married - is illegal in the United States. You can receive fines and / or prison time, depending on the state. For example, in Utah, Bigamy is a "Felony of Third Degree", meaning you can have between 2 and 10 years in prison (see Sec. 12.34.). Child bigamy second degree, and so is 2 to 20 years (see Sec. 12.33.). It is also enforced.

Polygamy is different to Bigamy - it is broader. It includes bigamy, and is not used in legal context. Polygamy also doesn't have to be illegal. You can hold a religious ceremony and declare yourself married to 3, 5, 10 - as many people as you want. As long as you only legally marry one of them, you've not committed a crime. This is because of the difference between a legal marriage and a religious marriage in the US. However, living with them, and committing adultery is illegal in 21 states, but it often seems to be that:

no prosecution for adultery shall be commenced except upon complaint of the husband or wife

Despite that, This site says that someone is having to argue for them to enforce a law (which seems a little strange), and the post suggests he might not win (saying "could be prosecuted").

US law was also based on English Law (3rd Paragraph):

The principle that a person could only be married singly, not plurally, existed since the times of King James I of England in English law, upon which United States law was based.

The 1878 court case Reynolds v. United States was an important test case.

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    @nomenagentis Bigamy tends to be rare since it requires you to do legal paperwork in more than one state and claim that you are not already married. This means that it is a lot easier to prosecute since you they just need to prove false testimony.
    – rjzii
    Jun 28, 2015 at 15:56
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    @nomenagentis No, it's not impossible. The US does not keep official national records of your marital status, like some other countries do. It follows that in the US you aren't required to present an official national record of marital status to marry.
    – Dan Getz
    Jun 29, 2015 at 0:18
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    @Martin Smith: Lots of things are illegal, but only enforced when some law enforcement officer wants to make an example, get some publicity, or just doesn't like you.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 29, 2015 at 6:21
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    Hmm... from a quick search I don't see any follow-up articles on that case. I suspect it was not prosecuted, but knowing the outcome would be interesting. It should be noted, though, that there are lots of old laws on the books in the U.S. which are not enforced and would almost certainly be struck down by the courts if someone tried to enforce them. It's not really that uncommon. Adultery laws fall into that category.
    – reirab
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:10
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    @DVK yes I know the law says that. But the OP may still consider themselves married - whether or not the USA agrees.
    – Tim
    Jun 30, 2015 at 10:43

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