Culture and Society

Is polygamy legal anywhere in the United States?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. The short answer is no, although that's not to say the practice does not still exist in the United States. According to Black's Law Dictionary, polygamy, or plural marriage, is the "state or practice of having more than one spouse simultaneously." The practice was outlawed by the federal government in 1862, forbidding the practice in all U.S. territories.

    Polygamy is strongly identified with the Mormon faith by some in the general public, even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church) has condemned the practice since 1890 and today excommunicates those of its members thought to be practicing it. Nevertheless, polygamy is secretly practiced in Utah and its neighboring states. In fact, it's estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 polygamists live in that region [source: Signature Books Library].

    Polygamy is practiced today, typically, by members of splinter groups that broke off from the LDS Church over that very issue. The so-called "fundamentalist" Mormons have long sought to have polygamy decriminalized. In fact, in July of 2011, a lawsuit was filed in Salt Lake City that asks for polygamy between consenting adults not to be considered a crime, challenging Utah's ban on plural marriages. It's even possible that state's law could end up being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even Utah's attorney general was moved by the filing to suggest that the United States may be in for a broader discussion about polygamy along the lines of the state-by-state debate over same-sex marriage. The Utah suit was filed on behalf of Kody Brown and his four wives, all of whom star on the TLC Network television program "Sister Wives." The suit challenges the Utah ban largely on the grounds of personal privacy. The Browns are part of one of the Mormon splinter groups, called Apostlic United Brethren [source: Salt Lake Tribune].

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