Countries Where Polygamy Is Legal 2022

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Polygamy is the term used to describe a marriage between at least three people. Polygamy contrasts with monogamy, which is a marriage between only two people. While monogamy is the standard approach to marriage in Europe and the Americas, polygamy is common in much of Africa and the Middle East, and is also seen in parts of Southeast Asia. Ultimately, however, according to Pew Research released in 2020, "only about 2% of the global population lives in polygamous households."

The morality and societal worth of polygamy are fiercely debated. Westerners who promote polygamy on religious grounds (typically fringe-sect Mormons) often maintain that households with more parental contributors can create a richer and more stable family life for their children. However, opponents argue that polygamy is exploitative and founded upon the mistaken belief that women are inherently less worthy than men—and that those who promote polygamy tend to be those most likely to benefit from perpetuating said belief.

Polygamy-related terms and definitions

Polygamy is the general, gender-neutral term for any marriage between three or more people. Polygyny is a specific term used to describe a marriage that includes one husband and at least two wives. This is by far the most common (and the most frequently legal) form of polygamy. Polyandry is a specific term used to describe marriages between one wife and at least two husbands.

Group marriage is blanket term for marriages that include multiple husbands as well as multiple wives. Polyamory is the practice of having multiple romantic relationships, with all parties having full knowledge and granting full consent. Not related to marriage. Polygeny is the (outdated) theory that humankind's different races evolved from different sets of ancestors. This term is unrelated to polygamy but is occasionally confused with "polygyny", so it is included here for the sake of clarity.

Religious views on polygamy

Buddhism

Buddhists regard marriage as a secular affair rather than a sacrament. As such, each Buddhist country has its own stance on polygamy. For example, Thailand legally recognized polygamy in 1955, whereas Myanmar outlawed polygyny in 2015.

Christianity

In Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church condemns polygamy, as do most protestant churches. However, the Lutheran Church accepts some polygamists and the Anglican Communion ruled in 1988 that polygamy was permissible in some circumstances.

Mormons

This subsect of Christianity is known for its historically atypical stance on polygamy. In the United States, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mormons practiced polygamy, which it called "plural marriage", from 1847 to 1890. The U.S. government made polygamy illegal in 1862, largely in response to the LDS Church. The church, realizing that support for polygamy was likey preventing Utah's statehood, outlawed the practice in 1890 and church founder Joseph Smith disavowed the practice in 1904. Some small Mormon groups that split from the LDS Church still practice polygamy, as do a few members of society at large, but these unions are not legally registered or recognized.

Hinduism

Hindu law allows polygamy within certain parameters, though the application varies from one Hindu country to another. For example, traditional Hindu law allowed polygamy if the first wife could not bear a son. Additionally, Balinese Hinduism allows for sanctioned and unrestricted polygamy, but the marriage is regulated by adat or traditional customs.

Islam

Islam is the only major religion whose sacred texts arguably endorse polygamy. Verse 3 of Surah 4 An-Nisa (Women) declares that a man may marry up to four women under specific (and debated) circumstances. In observance of this text, many Muslim countries allow a man to have up to four wives. However, many also require the man to state whether he plans to be monogamous or polygamous as part of the marriage agreement with his first wife, and if she disallows it, he cannot marry another wife while married to her. Also, polyandry, in which a wife has multiple husbands, is still strictly prohibited.

Muslim acceptance of polygyny is illustrated by the fact that polygamy is most common in the Middle East and North/Central Africa, the regions of the world that are home to the highest concentrations of Muslims, and illegal in most other regions. Furthermore, several countries recognize polygamous marriages between Muslims, but not between practitioners of other religions.

Judaism

Many prominent Jewish leaders, including Abraham, David, and Jacob, are described in the Torah as having polygamous/plural marriages. However, like all but a few contemporary Christians (whose Old Testament mirrors the Torah), modern Jews have disavowed the practice.

Legality and recognition of polygamy around the world

The legal status of polygamy varies from country to country, with each nation either outlawing, accepting, or encouraging polygamy. In those countries that accept or encourage polygamy, polygyny is most common. In countries where only monogamous marriage is legally valid, de facto polygamy is typically allowed as long as adultery is not illegal. In regions such as these, in which polygamy is outlawed but tolerated, there is no legal recognition for additional spouses after the first.

Polygamy is illegal and criminalized in every country in North and South America, including all 50 U.S. states. However, in February 2020, the Utah House and Senate reduced the punishment for consensual polygamy, which had previously been classified as a felony, to roughly equivalent to a traffic ticket.

With the exception of the Solomon Islands, polygamous marriages are not recognized in Europe and Oceania. In India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, the governments recognize polygamous marriages, but only for Muslims. In Australia, polygamous marriage is outlawed, but polygamous relationships are common within some indigenous Australian communities. In Indonesia, polygamy is legal in some areas, such as in Bali, Papua, and West Papua. Balinese Hinduism allows for polygamy, which has been practiced for centuries by the Balinese and Papuans. Protests to outlaw polygamy and polygamous marriages occurred in 2008 in Indonesia but did not result in legislative changes.

In some African countries, polygamy is illegal under civil law but still allowed through customary law, in which acts that have traditionally been accepted by a particular culture are considered legally permissible. This arguably confusing loophole results in two types of marriages: "civil" marriages and "customary" or "religious" marriages, and enables countries such as Liberia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone to allow and even support polygamous marriages without officially recognizing them.

Another unusual loophole is that many Muslim countries will recognize polygamous marriages as long as the husband, before marrying his first wife, informs her that he intends to add additional future wives and she consents. If the first wife does not consent, the husband is not allowed to marry any additional wives as long as he is married to her.

Some countries that have outlawed polygamy may still recognize polygamous marriages from other countries. For example, Sweden recognizes polygamous marriages performed abroad. Switzerland outlawed polygamy, but polygamous marriage conducted in another country is handled on a case-by-case basis. Australia recognizes polygamous marriages formed in other countries only under certain circumstances.

Countries Where Polygamy Is Legal 2022

Country Details 2022 Population
AfghanistanPolygyny legal for up to four wives40,754,388
AlgeriaPolygyny legal for up to four wives, but increasingly rare45,350,148
AngolaTechnically illegal, but still practiced35,027,343
BahrainPolygyny legal for up to four wives, but rare.1,783,983
BangladeshLegal and recognized, but often heavily taxed167,885,689
BhutanLegal (including polyandry via customary law) but not civilly recognized. Increasingly rare787,941
BotswanaIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law2,441,162
BrazilTechnically illegal, but decriminalized. Marriage-like união estável ("stable union") ceremonies between three or more people have been performed.215,353,593
BruneiLegal and recognized445,431
Burkina FasoTechnically illegal, but still practiced22,102,838
BurundiTechnically illegal, but still practiced12,624,840
CambodiaTechnically illegal, but still practiced17,168,639
CameroonPolygyny legal, no limit on number of wives.27,911,548
Central African RepublicPolygyny legal for up to four wives, but increasingly rare. Before marrying first wife, husband must get her permission to marry more wives in the future.5,016,678
ChadLegal and common, even among Christians17,413,580
DjiboutiPolygyny legal for up to four wives1,016,097
DR CongoTechnically illegal, but still practiced95,240,792
EgyptLegal and recognized106,156,692
Equatorial GuineaTechnically illegal, but still practiced1,496,662
EswatiniLegal and recognized. but rare1,184,817
GabonLegal in both forms, but only practiced by men. Couples must declare any polygamous intent before first marriage, but men are allowed to change their answer later.2,331,533
GambiaPolygyny legal for up to four wives; common 2,558,482
GhanaTechnically illegal, but still practiced32,395,450
GuineaPolygyny legal for up to four wives, but before marrying first wife, husband must get her permission to marry more wives in the future.13,865,691
IndiaPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims.1,406,631,776
IndonesiaLegal, but rules vary by province279,134,505
IranLegal and recognized86,022,837
IraqLegal and recognized (except for Kurdistan)42,164,965
IsraelTechnically illegal, but still practiced8,922,892
JordanLegal and recognized10,300,869
KazakhstanTechnically illegal, but still practiced19,205,043
KenyaPolygyny legal for up to four wives56,215,221
KuwaitLegal and recognized4,380,326
LaosTechnically illegal, but still practiced7,481,023
LebanonPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims.6,684,849
LesothoIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law2,175,699
LiberiaIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law5,305,117
LibyaPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims. Uncommon.7,040,745
MadagascarTechnically illegal, but still practiced29,178,077
MalawiIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law20,180,839
MalaysiaPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims. Requires court permission33,181,072
MaldivesLegal and recognized, provided the husband can demonstrate financial ability to support multiple wives540,985
MaliPolygyny legal for up to four wives. Before marrying first wife, husband must get her permission to marry more wives in the future. However, some husbands circumvent this with informal "religious" marriages.21,473,764
MauritaniaPolygyny legal for up to four wives, but husband must get his existing wife's/wives' consent before marrying additional wives4,901,981
MauritiusTechnically illegal, but still practiced1,274,727
MoroccoLegal, but husband must be able to support additional wives financially and must have written permission from first wife.37,772,756
MozambiqueTechnically illegal, but still practiced33,089,461
NamibiaIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law2,633,874
NepalTechnically illegal, but still practiced30,225,582
NigerIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law26,083,660
NigeriaPolygyny legal for up to four wives in Sharia Muslim states only216,746,934
OmanLegal and recognized5,323,993
PakistanPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims. Men must prove ability to financially support multiple wives, existing wives can forbid polygamy in marriage contract.229,488,994
PalestinePolygyny legal up to four wives. First wife can forbid polygamy in marriage contract.5,345,541
PhilippinesPolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims.112,508,994
QatarLegal and recognized2,979,915
Republic of the CongoPolygyny legal, but before marrying first wife, husband must get her permission to marry more wives in the future.5,797,805
RussiaTechnically illegal, but tolerated in Muslim regions (for example: Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan).145,805,947
RwandaTechnically illegal, but still practiced13,600,464
Sao Tome And PrincipeLegal and recognized227,679
Saudi ArabiaLegal and recognized35,844,909
SenegalLegal and recognized17,653,671
Sierra LeoneIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law8,306,436
SingaporePolygyny legal up to four wives, but only for Muslims.5,943,546
Solomon IslandsLegal and recognized721,159
SomaliaLegal and recognized16,841,795
South AfricaIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law [polygyny only]. Court permission required.60,756,135
South SudanLegal and recognized11,618,511
Sri LankaLegal and recognized, including polyandry21,575,842
SudanLegal and recognized45,992,020
SyriaLegal (except for Kurdistan)19,364,809
TanzaniaLegal and recognized63,298,550
ThailandTechnically illegal, but still practiced70,078,203
Timor LesteTechnically illegal, but still practiced1,369,429
TogoLegal and recognized8,680,837
UgandaLegal and recognized48,432,863
United Arab EmiratesPolygyny legal for up to four wives.10,081,785
YemenPolygyny legal for up to four wives.31,154,867
ZambiaRecognized under customary law. In some tribes, before marrying first wife, husband must get her permission to marry more wives in the future.19,470,234
ZimbabweIllegal under civil law, allowed under customary law15,331,428

Countries Where Polygamy Is Legal 2022

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