Culture and Society

What is the legal status of polygamy in the U.S.?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Polygamy has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1800s. A specific ban on polygamy was added to the constitution of Utah when it became a state, because most Mormons live there and many Mormons practice polygamy. Although all states specifically outlaw bigamy, few outlaw polygamy. In order to get around the issue of bigamy, polygamists will either marry through the church without an official marriage license or marry and divorce all but one wife but continue to live and sleep with them all. So many people in Utah practice polygamy that there's no way the state could afford to investigate, try and jail all of them. Polygamists are rarely prosecuted. There was a public relations nightmare after a series of 1950s raids in which polygamist husbands were arrested. The public was upset about all those wives and children being left without fathers and husbands. Most polygamists who are prosecuted are prosecuted for ancillary offenses like welfare fraud or child abuse.

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