Where Is Polygamy Legal?

Polygamy is legal in many traditionalist Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Islamic regions of India and some African states. In the United States, polygamy is illegal in the sense that more than one marriage will not be recognized in law. However, the state of Utah allows polygamous cohabitation.

The former polygamy law in Utah expressly forbade polygamous cohabitation, but a federal judge revised the law to allow it, arguing that the law as it stood was unconstitutional and restrictive of religious freedom. In fact, the former law was largely an attempt to restrict the Mormon religious lifestyle. Nevertheless, it remains illegal to hold two valid marriage licenses.

Where polygamy is legal in Islamic countries, it only allows for a man to have up to four wives providing he can support them. Such a system is often referred to as polygyny, and women are not permitted to hold more than one husband.

In practice, Islamic polygyny tends to differ from polygamous cohabitation, in that wives generally live apart from each other and share only their husband.

The expense associated with maintaining more than one marriage means that, even in countries where it is legal, polygamy is actually quite rare. Having multiple wives therefore becomes something of a status symbol for successful men.