Polygamy is a form of marriage to multiple spouses but in almost all cases it is one husband to multiple wives, it can also be called “consensual non-monogamy.” In some societies today polygamy is accepted, like in Senegal where almost 50% percent of marriages are polygamous. However in the west the practice is generally unaccepted and illegal in most countries.
From the Bible we can understand that polygamy was practiced during the Old Testament era but the New Testament prohibits polygamy. Fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy following a revelation by their founder Joseph Smith in 1831 when he was told to practice “plural marriage.” In 1852 Brigham Young, leader of the Latter-Day Saints Church acknowledged the practice of polygamy. Under Islamic law polygamy is allowed. Despite polygamy in the Old Testament modern Judaism does not sanction polygamy. It is unsure how many polygamous families there are in America, many live in secret but it is thought that 30,000 to 50,000 people live in plural families in the US. Polygamy is illegal in all States of America although supporters claim it is a religious choice. They believe that multiple wives lead to a higher form of salvation.
Polygamy got a bad name when news broke about the followers of Warren Jeffs and his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who practiced polygamy including marriage to underage girls. The TV program Sister Wives also brought the issue into the public eye. Clearly polygamy as practiced withing the Warren Jeffs community is immoral and illegal. No one would defend the practice if it involved women being forced into marriage, mistreated or married at the age of 12. But let us consider polygamy as a healthy relationship entered into by 3, 4 or more consenting adults. Under those circumstances there can be pros and cons. Supporters of polygamy feel that if the individuals enter in to the relationship of their own free will then it should be legal.
The Pros of Polygamy
Most of the pros are for the husband. He gets to sleep with more than one woman in his marriage, have many more children than a regular husband and get the attention and care from more than one wife. The husband never gets lonely.
The pros for a woman in a polygamous marriage are that the housework is shared, the women feel like they have sisters and they don’t have to sleep with their husband as much. All members of the family learn to share and this can only be an advantage when they go out into society.
Cons of Polygamy
For the husband he has to financially support a much larger family. He has to deal with the jealousies between the wives and satisfy them all sexually. In several documentaries the point has been raised that some wives and children don’t get the food and clothing they need.
For the woman she will never have her husband all to herself, she will always be sharing not only her man but her home and children. What happens when she is the “old” wife and no longer the apple of her husband’s eye? Will her children get all the love, attention and physical needs met. Children in a polygamous family need to share their dad with as many as 20 other siblings. The children also need to learn to cope with having more than one mother. Do the children get the individual one-on-one time they need?
At present polygamy is illegal, it appears to have few advantages for the women or the children yet thousands of consenting adults enter into plural families each year. Gay marriage has only recently been made legal; perhaps polygamy is next in line as it is a lifestyle and religious choice. As one wife in a polygamous marriage said: “We have a right to live this way as it is our version of freedom and liberty for all.”