Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, the relationship is called polygyny, and there is no marriage bond between the wives; and when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry, and there is no marriage bond between the husbands.
HBO’s Big Love and TLC’s reality-TV offering Sister Wives have thrust polygamy into popular culture in the United States. Estimates are that somewhere between 50,000-100,000 families in this country are currently risking criminal prosecution by practicing plural marriage.
In parts of Africa, men take multiple spouses as a cultural practice. Canadian immigration officials have turned down applications from men in legal polygamous unions abroad to bring more than one wife to the country under a family class visa. Also, there have been hundreds of refugee claims by women from such cultures who claim abuse and coercion in forced multiple marriages.
In announcing the success of the Libyan revolution and calling for a new, more pious nation, the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, also seemed to clear the way for unrestricted polygamy in a Muslim country where it has been limited and rare for decades...Unlike in its African Muslim neighbors to the south, where multiple-wife family compounds are frequently seen, polygamy has hardly been part of the essential fabric of daily life here. Under Colonel Qaddafi, there was a notion that polygamous marriages were the exception, said Azza Kamel Maghur, a lawyer here. Apart from the wife’s consent — delivered in front of a judge — a man had to give reasons for taking another wife.
In 1862 the United States Congress passed the Morrill Act, which prohibited plural marriage in the territories, disincorporated the Mormon Church, and restricted the church's ownership of property...In 1882 Congress passed the Edmunds Act, which was actually a series of amendments to the Morrill Act. It restated that polygamy was a felony punishable by five years of imprisonment and a $500 fine. Unlawful cohabitation, which was easier to establish because the prosecution had to prove only that the couple had lived together rather than that a marriage ceremony had taken place, remained a misdemeanor punishable by six months imprisonment and a $300 fine.
Although polygamy is illegal in the U.S. and most mosques try to discourage plural marriages, some Muslim men in America have quietly married multiple wives. No one knows how many Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families. But according to academics researching the issue, estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.
When establishing the LDS Church, Joseph Smith recorded numerous revelations he claimed to receive, often in answer to questions about the Bible, which are now included in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the LDS canon. In answer to his question as to why many of the Old Testament leaders had more than one wife, Smith received what is now known as Section 132. Although the revelation was not recorded until 1843, Smith may have received it in the 1830s and married his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in 1835. Polygamy was not openly practiced in the Mormon Church until 1852 when Orson Pratt, an apostle, made a public speech defending it as a tenet of the church. From 1852 until 1890, Mormon Church leaders preached and encouraged members, especially those in leadership positions, to marry additional wives.
Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy, and it occurs when one man is married to several women, or carries on sexual relationships with several women, simultaneously—with everyone's knowledge of the polyvalent relationships. This is the form of polygamy associated with the FLDS church, and was more commonly connected to the Mormon Church in the 19th century.
Polyandry is the less familiar form of polygamy, and it occurs when one woman is married to, or is involved in sexual relationships, with several men at the same time. This form of polygamy is relatively uncommon and occurs more often in cultures where the scarcity of resources forces several men to join together to buy one bride. This lifestyle serves as a method of population control.
As China has shed its chaste Communist mores for the wealth and indulgences of a market-oriented economy, the boom has bred a generation of nouveau-riche lotharios yearning to rival the sexual conquests of their imperial ancestors. Even the Chinese term for mistress — “ernai,” or second wife — harks back to that polygamous tradition of yore.
Judging from the embarrassing revelations to emerge in recent months, such arrangements appear to be commonplace among the corporate titans, rags-to-riches entrepreneurs and government officials whose inordinate and sometimes ill-gotten gains can maintain one or more lovers — many of whom are sustained through stipends, furnished apartments and luxury sports cars.
Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada explicitly bans polygamy and threatens offenders with a five-year prison term. Bigamy is named as a similarly serious crime in Section 290...There hasn't been a successful prosecution for polygamy in Canada for more than 60 years. Nor are statistics kept on how many Canadians live in polygamous marriages, a broad category that covers both men and women with multiple spouses.