What is polygamy?

We explain what polygamy is, which countries accept it and why it is important in the Mormon religion. Also, what is monogamy.

  1. What is polygamy?

Polygamy is known as a type of marriage in which one person can marry several others at the same time . This applies to marriages of a single man and several women (polygyny) or a single woman and several men (polyandria). Its name comes from the Greek polís (“many”) and gámos (“marriage”).

Polygamy is not accepted, and in fact is sanctioned, by Western doctrines of law , which consider monogamy (just the opposite) as the only viable marriage and family option. However, it is exercised in many other cultures , especially in Asia and the Middle East.

On the other hand, the number of documented polygamous societies in the world is quite small, since not all polygamous families come from a polygamous marriage.

Polygamy should not be confused with other forms of love or erotic bond, such as promiscuity, infidelity or informal sexual relations (orgies, casual relationships, affairs, prostitution, etc.). In fact, polygamy is often closely linked to certain religious aspects (especially sectors of traditionalist Judaism and Islam).

Perhaps the contemporary term that is closest to him in the West is the so-called polyamory , but such relationships do not enjoy any form of formal or legal recognition.

  1. Countries where polygamy is accepted

Polygamy is formally accepted in some Islamic countries , especially those more traditional, always centered around polygyny.

In nations such as Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates, for example, it is practiced among the upper classes, since the man who has several wives must provide for each one a home, even if they do not even have treatment with each other. In contrast, other more secular Muslim nations, such as Tunisia, Lebanon, Malaysia and Turkey, expressly prohibit this type of union.

The Hindu tradition neither condemns nor fosters polygamy , and in Hindu nations like Bhutan it is formally allowed. However, India is a particular case: polygamy is prohibited to all but Muslims, since ethnic-religious tensions have allowed dual legislation since 2004 , depending on which religion one belongs to.

Finally, some of the United States of America allow polygamy in its legislation, even if it is not well seen socially. South Africa also allows such unions if it is chosen at the time of marriage.

In Paraguay it was legal during the post- war period  of 1865, when the nation faced Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, and after losing 90% of its male population, it was necessary to make these considerations more flexible under a policy of “free love.”

  1. Mormons and polygamy

Mormon polygamy
The Mormon church allowed polygamy until the early twentieth century.

Polygamy has been part of the life model of a religious group known as the Mormons since its founder Joseph Smith said in 1831 that certain men in his community were to practice multiple marriage . Smith explained that this information had been communicated to him in a divine revelation.

This revelation was published in the Doctrine and covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus began a long history of disputes between the State and the members of this group regarding the issue.

However, the tightening of laws on bigamy in some of the United States forced Mormons to emigrate to Canada and Mexico, where they could continue with such marriages.

However, at the beginning of the 20th century the Mormon church began to excommunicate the faithful to practice it . On the other hand, according to the 2005 Salt Lake Tribune , there were still at least 18,500 Mormons living in polygamous homes.

  1. Polygamy in Mexico

In Mexico, polygamy is not legally permitted , as is the case in all nations with strong Christian roots. However, it was a common practice of pre-Columbian tribes , so many Nahuatl ethnic groups from the state of Veracruz still practice it, forming homes with several wives, in which children are raised as brothers.

  1. What is monogamy?

Monogamy is just the opposite of polygamy, that is, a monogamous marriage can only be made up of two individuals (traditionally of opposite sexes) in a stable, unique and mutually exclusive relationship.

This is the principle in force in Western religions such as Catholicism or Protestantism and is, therefore, the only form of conjugal union possible and recognized by the State. Bigamy, in fact, constitutes a crime punishable by law in most countries.

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