Legality of polygamy

The legal status of polygamy varies widely around the world. Polygyny is legal in 58 out of nearly 200 sovereign states, the vast majority of them being Muslim-majority countries in Africa and Asia. Polyandry is illegal in virtually every country and strictly prohibited in Islam.[citation needed] Several countries permit polygyny among Muslims in their communities. Some countries that permit polygamy have restrictions, such as requiring the first wife to give her consent.

Status of polygamy worldwide:
  Polygamous marriages recognized under civil law
  Polygamous marriages recognized under civil law in some regions/demographics
  Polygamous marriages performed abroad recognized
  Customary law recognizes polygamous unions
  Issue under political consideration
  No recognition, polygamy legal
  Polygamy illegal but performed
  Polygamy illegal, polygamous marriages constitutionally banned

In countries that ban polygamy, the offence is commonly called bigamy, though the penalty varies between jurisdictions. In some countries where polygamy is illegal, the prohibition is not enforced.

Countries that recognize polygamous marriagesEdit




  •   Solomon Islands[55]

Countries that only recognize polygamous marriages for MuslimsEdit

Note: These countries are included separately because they have specific legislation aimed only at Muslims.


Countries that do not recognize polygamous marriagesEdit


  •   Benin[58]
  •   Côte d'Ivoire: Polygamy may be punishable by six months to three years imprisonment, or a fine of CFA 50,000 to CFA 500,000 (US$80 to US$800).[59]
  •   Eritrea: Illegal since 1977, after 2015 polygamy is punishable with "a definite term of imprisonment of not less than 6 months and not more than 12 months, or a fine of 20,001 – 50,000 Nakfas."[60]
  •   Ethiopia[61][62]
  •   Seychelles
  •   Tunisia, where it has been banned since 1956[63]

Under customary lawEdit

Illegal de jure but still practicedEdit


  •   Antigua and Barbuda
  •   Argentina
  •   Bahamas
  •   Barbados
  •   Belize
  •   Bolivia
  •   Brazil: Bigamy is illegal but the practice is decriminalized, having led to newsworthy accounts of cohabitation.[89]
  •   Canada: All forms of polygamy, and some informal multiple sexual relationships, are illegal under section 293 of the Criminal Code.[90] Bigamy is banned by section 290.[91] However, for a long time, the law banning polygamy has not been efficient. As of January 2009, no person had been successfully prosecuted, i.e. convicted, in over sixty years.[92] In 2009, two acquittals on polygamy charges, arising out of the town of Bountiful, British Columbia, prompted the government of British Columbia to pose a reference question to the Supreme Court of British Columbia (i.e., the superior trial court). The reference questions asked if the criminalisation of polygamy was consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and, if so, under what circumstances could people be legally punished for polygamy.[93] In November 2011 the court released its 335-page long decision, which was that the criminal offence of polygamy is indeed constitutional, but that it should not be used to prosecute minors for having taken part in a polygamous marriage.[94] Chief Justice Robert Bauman conceded that there is a conflict between this law and some civil rights principles, but stated that there are other and "more important" issues which in this case take precedence. He wrote (as quoted by CBC News[94]): "I have concluded that this case is essentially about harm. More specifically, Parliament's reasoned apprehension of harm arising out of the practice of polygamy. This includes harm to women, to children, to society and the institution of monogamous marriage." Bauman argued that there are cases where the "wives" (who may be rather young; sometimes as young as 12 years) are abducted and abused, but because they believe in faith-promoting polygamy, they are not willing to bring complaints to the authorities. He reasons that these offences sometimes may be stopped by applying anti-polygamy legislation. The decision was welcomed by the Attorney General of British Columbia, and by a representative for the group Stop Polygamy in Canada. Likewise, according to the CBC news,[94] some polyamorous groups in Canada expressed their relief since Bauman had stated that the law shouldn't apply to them unless they decide to formalize their unions. Women's rights were central to the decision.[94]
  •   Chile
  •   Colombia
  •   Costa Rica
  •   Cuba
  •   Dominica
  •   Dominican Republic
  •   Ecuador
  •   El Salvador
  •   Grenada
  •   Guatemala
  •   Guyana
  •   Haiti
  •   Honduras
  •   Jamaica
  •   Mexico
  •   Nicaragua
  •   Panama
  •   Paraguay
  •   Peru
  •   St. Kitts and Nevis
  •   St. Lucia
  •   St. Vincent and The Grenadines
  •   Suriname
  •   Trinidad and Tobago
Bigamy laws throughout the United States
  All forms of cohabitation outlawed


  •   Nepal
  •   China: Polygamy is illegal under the Civil code passed in 2020, which replaced a similar 1950 and 1980 prohibition.[99] In Hong Kong, polygamy ended with the passing of the Marriage Act of 1971.
  •   Israel: Polygamy has been banned for all confessional communities since at least 1959.[100]
  •   India (Polygamy for Muslims was outlawed in 2015 after a verdict by the Supreme Court of India)[101]
  •   Japan
  •   Kyrgyzstan
  •   Mongolia
  •   Myanmar[102][103]
  •   South Korea
  •   Taiwan (Polygamy is illegal by the 1930 ROC civil law.)[104]
  •   Tajikistan
  •   Turkey (Polygamy was criminalized in 1926 with the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code, part of Atatürk's secularist reforms. Penalties for polygamy are imprisonment of up to 5 years.)[105] Turkey has long been known for its promotion of secularism,[106][107][108] and has introduced measures establishing stricter bars against polygamy; these were passed by the ruling moderate Islamist AK Party as well. In March 2009, AK Parti effectively banned polygamists from entering or living in the country.[109]
  •   Turkmenistan
  •   Uzbekistan
  •   Vietnam

Illegal de jure but still practicedEdit


  •   Albania
  •   Andorra
  •   Armenia
  •   Austria
  •   Azerbaijan
  •   Belarus
  •   Belgium
  •   Bosnia and Herzegovina
  •   Bulgaria: Illegal and punishable with up to three years imprisonment.[117]
  •   Croatia
  •   Cyprus
  •   Czech Republic
  •   Denmark
  •   Estonia
  •   Finland: The official prosecutor is obliged to take all cases to a court where more than two persons are married to each other and such relationships cease to exist after the court has decided it.[118] Polygamic marriages performed abroad may be recognized only on narrow occasions, for instance in child custody matters.[119]
  •   France: Civil marriage registry illegal.
  •   Georgia
  •   Germany: Illegal, legally punishable with fine or prison time up to three years.[120] Polygamous marriages contracted abroad are legal, however, the German authorities announced plans to close this legal loophole.[121]
  •   Greece
  •   Hungary
  •   Iceland
  •   Ireland:[122] The Catholic Church in Ireland allowed someone with a church annulment but no civil annulment to remarry in church; such a marriage was legally null and bigamous but no prosecutions were brought.[123][124] The practice ended after the 1996 legalisation of divorce.[123] In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that if someone had two legal marriages abroad, only the first was legal in Ireland, though 'that did not necessarily mean [the second] marriage "can never have legal consequences [in Ireland]"'.[125]
  •   Italy
  •   Kosovo
  •   Latvia
  •   Liechtenstein
  •   Lithuania
  •   Luxembourg
  •   Macedonia
  •   Malta
  •   Moldova
  •   Monaco
  •   Montenegro
  •   Netherlands: Marriage between more than two individuals is prohibited; however, a samenlevingscontract may include more than two partners. It legally accepts immigrants who are in such a union from a country where it is legal; e.g. if a man with two wives immigrates to The Netherlands, all three will be legally recognized.[126]
  •   Norway
  •   Poland
  •   Portugal
  •   Romania: Bigamy, defined as marriage conducted by a person who is already married, is punishable by up to 2 years in prison or fine. Knowingly marrying a married person is punishable by up to 1 year in prison or by fine.[127]
  •   Russian Federation
  •   San Marino
  •   Serbia
  •   Slovakia
  •   Slovenia
  •   Spain
  •   Sweden: Sweden recognizes polygamous marriages performed abroad, and all spouses are subsequently registered as spouses in the population register, but other spouses than the first spouse may not always be recognized on all occasions.[128][129][130] Only the first spouse is recognized as a spouse when decisions are made on residence permits and social security.[128] A Swede may have four spouses registered at most.[129]
  •   Switzerland: Polygamy is illegal by law. But polygamous marriage conducted in another country may be accepted or rejected on a case-by-case basis.[131]
  •   Ukraine
  •   United Kingdom: Foreign polygamous marriages grant some welfare benefits only, but this is being phased out with the introduction of Universal Credit.[132] Polygamy is treated as bigamy if a second marriage (or civil partnership) is contracted in the United Kingdom. No legal recognition is extended to spouses of subsequent marriages after the first marriage is recognised even when subsequent marriages are contracted abroad.
  •   Vatican City (Holy See)


  •   Australia: Polygamous marriages cannot be performed in Australia, but polygamous relationships are still common within some indigenous Australian communities.[133][134] Polygamous marriages entered into abroad are recognised for limited purposes[which?] only.[135]
  •   Fiji
  •   Kiribati
  •   Marshall Islands
  •   Micronesia
  •   Nauru
  •   New Zealand: Polygamous marriages cannot be performed in New Zealand, but are permissible if they are legally performed in a country that permits polygamy.
  •   Palau
  •   Papua New Guinea
  •   Samoa
  •   Tonga
  •   Tuvalu
  •   Vanuatu

Current legislationEdit

In most countries, a person who marries a person while still being lawfully married to another commits bigamy, a criminal offence, though penalties vary between jurisdictions. Besides, the second and subsequent marriages are considered legally null and void.

The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand permit some benefits for spouses of polygamous marriages performed abroad. On a case-by-case basis, Sweden recognizes polygamous marriages performed abroad but without giving residence or social security rights to other spouses.[128][129] In Switzerland polygamous marriages conducted abroad may be accepted or rejected on a case-by-case basis;[136] see § Europe. In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, which allows simultaneous, additional marital rights and obligations for already married persons, prior to married persons becoming divorced from their existing spouse.[137]

The vast majority of Muslim majority sovereign states recognize polygamous marriages: these states span from the West Africa to Southeast Asia, with exceptions of Israel, Turkey and Tunisia.[138] The Palestinian territories — consisting of West Bank and Gaza Strip — permit polygamous unions for Muslim citizens of the territories.[139]

Predominantly Christian nations usually do not allow polygamy, with a handful of exceptions such as the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Zambia.

Almost a dozen countries that do not permit polygamous civil marriages recognize polygamous marriages under customary law. All the northern states in Nigeria governed by Islamic Sharia law recognize polygamous marriages. The autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland in northern Somalia also recognize polygamy, as does the country's Transitional Federal Government itself, since the country is governed by Sharia law. The recently independent country of Southern Sudan also recognizes polygamy.

Polyandry is de facto the norm in rural areas of Tibet, although it is illegal under Chinese family law. Polygamy continues in Bhutan[35] in various forms as it has since ancient times. It is also found in parts of Nepal,[140] despite its formal illegality in the country.[141]

Debates of legalizing polygamous marriages continue in Central Asian countries.[citation needed]

Civil unionsEdit

Brazil – The marriage of a single individual to more than one other person is prohibited by law as bigamy, which is punishable by two to six years of imprisonment,[142] and is valid for every Brazilian citizen, including naturalized ones.

On 5 May 2011 long-term cohabitation between non-married persons, known as união estável ("stable union"), was extended to same-sex couples, recognized as a family entity and granted all 112 rights of married couples – its only legal difference from marriage is that it does not change individual civil status from single to married.[citation needed]

One of such uniões estáveis, in Tupã, São Paulo, was registered involving a man and two women, as reported in August 2012.[143] A second união estável-bound trio took place in the city of Rio de Janeiro, this time between three women, in October 2015.[144][145]

International lawEdit

In 2000, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reported that polygamy violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), citing concerns that the lack of "equality of treatment with regard to the right to marry" meant that polygamy, restricted to polygyny in practice, violates the dignity of women and should be outlawed.[146] Specifically, the reports to UN Committees have noted violations of the ICCPR due to these inequalities[147] and reports to the General Assembly of the UN have recommended it be outlawed.[148][149]

Some countries where polygamy is legal are not signatories of ICCPR, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Malaysia, Brunei and South Sudan; so that ICCPR does not apply to these countries.[150] It has been argued by the Department of Justice of Canada that polygyny is a violation of international human rights law.[151]

Notable legislationEdit

The tables below cover recent pieces of legislation that have been either debated, proposed or voted on; all of which concerns a form of polygamous union.

To permit polygamyEdit

Country Date Polygamous union Upper House Lower House Head of State Final
Yes No Yes No
  Iraq 1963 Polygamous civil marriage (revoke of prohibitions)[152] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  United Kingdom 1987 or earlier Foreign marriages may receive benefits payments, being phased out[132]
  Malawi 1994 Customary law (recognizes polygamous unions)[153] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Libya 1998 Polygamous civil marriage [154] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  South Africa 1998 Customary marriage (civil recognition)[155] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Namibia 2003 Customary law (recognizes polygamous unions)[156] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Namibia 2004 Pension benefits to wives of a deceased president[157] - Failed -   No
  Uganda 2005 Polygamous civil marriage (easing of laws; plus restrictions) Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Kyrgyzstan 2007 Polygamous civil marriage[158] Failed - - -   No
  Kazakhstan 2007 Polygamous civil marriage[158] Failed - - -   No
  Uzbekistan 2007 Polygamous civil marriage Failed - - -   No
  Tajikistan 2007 Polygamous civil marriage Failed - - -   No
  Turkmenistan 2007 Polygamous civil marriage Failed - - -   No
  Kazakhstan June 2008 Polygamous civil marriage[159] Failed - - -   No
  Iran September 2008 Polygamous civil marriage (easing of laws)[160] Failed - - -   No
  Namibia July 2009 Polygamous civil marriage[161] Proposed - - - -
  Russia 2009 Polygamous civil marriage Proposed - - - -
  Kenya March 2014 Polygamous civil marriage Passed[15] - - -   Yes

To outlaw polygamyEdit

Country Date Prohibition type Upper House Lower House Head of State Final
Yes No Yes No
  United States July 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which made polygamy a misdemeanor offense in US territories and other areas where the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction. ' ' Signed   Yes
  United States March 1882 Edmunds Act, which reinforced Morrill by making polygamy a felony in the jurisdictions covered by Morrill; also prohibited "bigamous" or "unlawful cohabitation" as a misdemeanor offense, which removed the need to prove that actual marriages had occurred in order to obtain convictions on polygamy related charges. Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Turkestan ASSR (modern Kyrgyzstan) October 1921 Outlaws polygamy[162] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Thailand October 1935 Outlaws polygamy; polygamous marriage[163] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  North Vietnam (modern Vietnam) October 1950 Outlaws polygamy Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Syria 1953 Restrictions on polygamous marriage[152] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  India 1955 Outlaws Polygamy (Polygamy for Muslims was outlawed after a verdict by the Supreme Court of India in 2015)[101] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Tunisia 1956 Ban on polygamy; polygamous marriages[164] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Iraq 1959 Ban on polygamy; polygamous marriage[152] Passed Passed Signed   Revoked
  Côte d'Ivoire 1964 New penal code outlaws polygamy; polygamous marriages (upholds existing) Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  British Hong Kong (modern Hong Kong) 1971 Outlaws polygamy[165] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Eritrean People's Liberation Front (modern Eritrea) 1977 Outlaws polygamy; polygamous marriage (districts under Sharia exempt)[166] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Egypt 1979 Restrictions on polygamous marriage; ease of divorce laws[164] Passed; abrogated - - -   No
  Egypt 1985 Restrictions on polygamous marriage (less liberal)[164] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  France 1993 Outlaws family reunion for polygamist immigrants[167] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Uganda December 2003 Outlaws polygamy[168] Failed - -   No
  Morocco 2003 Restrictions on polygamous marriage[164] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Benin August 2004 New penal code outlaws polygamy; polygamous marriages (upholds existing)[169] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Morocco February 2005 Restrictions on polygamous marriage (heavy restrictions)[170] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Uganda July 2005 Outlaws polygamy[171] Failed - -   No
  Indonesia 2007 Bans civil servants from living polygamously[172] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Morocco May 2008 Restrictions on polygamous marriage (heavy restrictions)[citation needed] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Uganda June 2008 Outlaws polygamy[168] Failed - -   No
  Iraqi Kurdistan Nov. 2008 Outlaws polygamy except in selective circumstances[173] Passed Passed Signed   Yes
  Mayotte March 2009 2009 Mahoran status referendum (passage outlaws polygamy)[174] Territory-wide referendum   Yes
  Turkey May 2009 Disallows polygamists from immigrating into the country[175][failed verification]   Yes
  Indonesia July 2009 Restrictions on polygamous marriage[176] Pending Pending - -
  Namibia July 2009 Ban on polygamy and polygamous customary marriages Proposed - - - -

See alsoEdit



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