Marriage Laws United States Polygamy Laws

Christian Polygamy

  1. Bigamy: Crime of marrying during the continuance of a lawful marriage. Bigamy is not committed if a prior marriage has been terminated by a divorce or a decree of nullity of marriage. In the United States if a husband or wife is absent and unheard of for seven (or in some states five) years and not known to be alive, he or she is presumed dead, and remarriage by the other spouse is not bigamous. It is not necessarily a defense to a charge of bigamy that the offending party believed in good faith that he was divorced or that his previous marriage was not lawful.

    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1878 that plurality of wives (polygamy), as originally permitted by the Mormon religion, violated criminal law and was not defensible as an exercise of religious liberty. The Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy in 1890, but the practice has persisted among some, although it has been rarely prosecuted.

  2. Marriage of Convenience: A marriage for expediency rather than love.

  3. Monandry: Having one husband at a time.

  4. Monogamousness: Having one wife at a time.

  5. Open Marriage/Open Relationship: A form of polyamory relationship in which there may also be other lovers who are not partners in the given relationship. Most commonly, this refers to a primary couple who may have secondary relationships. The term "Open Marriage" was coined by the O'Neils in their 197x book by the same name. The bulk of the book was about expanded options for self fulfillment in a less confining relationship, but one chapter explored the idea of this including having other lovers, and it is this aspect of openness which the term refers to today.

  6. Plural Marriage: In Mormon History terms it not just more than one spouse, but Celestial marriage (or more than one wife) through special permission, authority, sanction, vow, covenant and sometimes command, by or on behalf of God.

  7. Poly: Typically a short hand for polyamory. Sometimes used as a catchall to avoid any need to distinguish between varieties of polyamory.

  8. Polyamory: A lifestyle which allows for more than one deep love simultaneously. Polyamorous relationships take many forms (ie: open marriage, group marriage, or dating multiple people), but the emphasis is on the bond of love.

  9. Polygamy: The condition or practice of having more than one spouse at one time. Technically this could mean more than one husband, but most people think it only means more than one wife. Some people inaccurately refer to bigamy as 2 wives and polygamy as 3 or more wives. Also referred to as plural or Celestial marriage by most Mormons, to refer to more than one wife.  Poly = many, gamos = Marriages.

  10. Polygyny: The condition or practice of having more than one wife at one time.  Poly = many, gyno = Females.  [Joseph F. Smith, during the Reed Smoot trials, while giving testimony to a Congressional Subcommittee, rationalized that Mormons were no longer living polygamy, as he had rationalized in his own mind that they were technically living polygyny. However this ruse of using the word polygyny, did not cover all of his, less than forthright, testimony under oath.]

  11. Polyandry: The condition or practice marrying or of having more than one husband at one time.  Poly = many, andro = Males.

  12. Poly-fidelity: A word which describes a particular type of group marriage. It combines 'poly' which means many, with 'fidelity' which means faithful. It describes a "group in which all partners are primary to all other partners and sexual fidelity is to the group.

  13. Sex: Is polyamory "about sex."? Yes and no. For most polyamorists, the core attraction is "amor" or "amour" -- love, albeit romantic/erotic love. Mostly the focus is on relationships. However, this definitely can involve sex as well, and it's that aspect which distinguishes polyamory from monogamous couples with close platonic friendships.

All 50 states have statutes against bigamy (multiple licensed marriages).  In most states, bigamy is a felony. 

In the following states, bigamy is a misdemeanor.  However, once the penalty is paid, you are back at square one.

Hawaii (petty misdemeanor-- 30 days in jail)
New Jersey
Rhode Island (misdemeanor, $1000)

The following lists are ordered by which states have the most promising statutorily.  The first list is the best, the last list is the worst.

The following states, have no statutes against fornication, adultery, or cohabitation, and they also do not recognize common-law marriages.


The following states have statutes that concern adultery, but none for fornication, cohabitation, or common-law marriage.  In some of them adultery is grounds for divorce only.  In others the offending spouse simply forfeits any rights to the innocent spouse's estate.  In the rest of them, adultery is a crime that can only be prosecuted by the offended spouse.  In a successful polygamous relationship, these need not be obstructive.  If the relationship fails, however, the statutory adulterer will be charged.

Maryland (Adultery results in a $10 fine and is grounds for divorce)
New Jersey
South Dakota
Texas (Texas does recognize common-law marriages, but apparently only if they are registered with the county clerk)

Both states make adultery and fornication misdemeanors, although in Illinois the conduct must be "open and notorious."  For interest's sake, we have listed all of the states whose statutes are no worse than Georgia or Illinois.  This only means that in these states you are as likely as not, to be able to find a lawyer who will talk to you.

New Hampshire (New Hampshire recognizes common-law marriages, but only for inheritance purposes after death)
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota

The following states have laws against cohabitation.

North Carolina
South Carolina
West Virginia

The following states recognize common-law marriages, or else make adultery a felony, and are not on the previous lists.

Rhode Island
Washington D.C.

Please Note: The contents of this page may not be used or miscontrued as "legal advice" in replace of consulting with one's own attorney in one's own jurisdiction.