How is polygamy illegal?

I’ve been catching up on the last season of Big Love and I have a question about polygamy.

In the series, the main character Bill has one legal wife, and two others he calls wives but never had any sort of legal ceremony confirming them. So my question is, how is what polygamists do illegal if there was only one ceremony and only one wife in the eyes of the law? Isn’t he basically a guy with a wife and two girlfriends? The only thing I can come up with is that maybe the other wives become common law and there is where you start having issues.

From Utah law:

So, Bill is violating the law, because he’s purported to marry his other two wives and is cohabiting with them.

So if he just called them his girlfriends and lived across town from them he’d be clear?

Usually, the charge of polygamy is saved for those doing welfare fraud or even pedophilia.

Although it is legal to have more than one GF, it’s not legal for them to all live with you but not report your income for purposes of them getting benefits.

Big Love is hardly realistic as it shows the wives to be Consenting adults, not women forced or brainwashed into “marriage”. And there’s no incest, pedophilia or welfare fraud.


*"Prior to November 20, 2007, the church was being led by Warren Jeffs, who succeeded his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002. For nearly two years, Warren Jeffs had been wanted on sex-crimes charges. From May 2006 until his arrest in August 2006, he was on the FBI’s Ten Most-Wanted List.[13] On September 25, 2007, Jeffs was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape[14][15] and was sentenced to ten years to life in prison.[16]…On January 10, 2004, Dan Barlow, the mayor of Colorado City, and about 20 men were excommunicated from the church and stripped of their wives and children (who would be reassigned to other men), and the right to live in the town. The same day two teenage girls reportedly fled the towns with the aid of activist Flora Jessop, who advocates plural wives’ escape from polygamy. The two girls, Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm, soon found themselves in a highly publicized dispute over their freedom and custody…In July 2005, eight men of the church were indicted for sexual contact with minors.[citation needed] All of them turned themselves in to police in Kingman, Arizona within days.[citation needed]

On July 29, 2005, Brent Jeffs filed suit accusing three of his uncles, including Warren Jeffs, of sexually assaulting him when he was a child. The suit also named the FLDS Church as a defendant"*

Or what if he never legally married any of them? He could call them wives and have them all live with him, no?

Adultery is still a felony in Utah so it’s actually illegal for him to have sex with anyone other than Barb (& vice versa). Nowdays prosecutors only charge someone with adultey in conjunction with bigamy or some other sex crime.

Although Big Love is not representative of the FLDS church, there are polygamous groups, like the United Apastolic Brethren, that are much more like Big Love. I am (slightly) acquanted with a very consenting and intelligent female attorney who is part of such a marriage. The FLDS church is full of incest, pedophilia and welfare fraud, not to mention neglect, youth abandonment and abuse - all polygamous groups are not the same, though.

  1. How common must a practice be before a TV show that depicts it is “realistic?”

  2. What is the statistical prevelance of women forced or brainwashed into “marriage,” incest, pedophilia or welfare fraud in Mormon-related plural marriage?

I thought the reasons that Polygamy was illegal had more to do with practicality. Legally, a wife can make decisions for medical care for an unconscious husband, yes? Who makes that decision if there are three wives? How about inheritance? Taxes, custody of children if the male and the mother-wife of a child dies? Do the other wives get custody? I’m not sure, of course, and IANAL, but I think anti-polygamy laws were put in place for religious reasons and for ease of taxes, medical powers, inheritance, custody issues, etc. Reducing pedophilia, ephebophilia, abuse, and any other perceived yuckiness associated with multiple marriages may be a side effect, though desirable.

*IANAL, and IANA Historian, religious professional, or other involved professional

Then let’s level charges of welfare fraud or pedophilia. Mixing up issues of marriage design is misleading.

I find it personally aggravating that polygamy is essentially illegal because 1) Religious people don’t like it and 2) it presents bureaucratic problems.

If three people love each other, they should be able to get married. (Don’t see that sentence much.)

Utah’s anti-polygamy laws were specifically designed to illegalize Mormon-style polygamy rather than just fraud-style bigamy. So they criminalized “bigamous cohabitation” as well as actually attempting to legally marry more than one person.

Big Love is fairly realistic. There are numerous polygamists who engage in polygamy with other consenting adults, and it also depicts an FLDS-like situation with “the compound” that Bill and his brother come from.

StautCJ’s post raises an interesting question. In societies that do/have practiced polygamy, after the husband dies what is the relation between the wives? Do they keep living together (presumably in a lot of these cultures two unrelated women living together would be a no-no)? Do they have to get remarried as a bloc?

I could see the practical legal issues being less in the “one big happy family” mode of multiple marriage where everyone considers themselves married to everyone else and if one drops off, they just carry on without them until you’re down to two in which case it works just like any other marriage.

I find it astonishing that in the USA in the 21st century there are states which criminalize a guy living with more than one woman. If no fraud is involved and the people involved are all adults what the hell business is it of the authorities? Does the Constitution afford no protection at all against such intrusion by the State into private life?

Unless someone challenges those laws in court, they won’t get overthrown. And keep in mind that Utah had to not only outlaw polygamy to gain acceptance into the Union, they probably had to go overboard and make sure the “wink, wink” kind of polygamy wasn’t common, either.

One thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned is that polygamous marriages usually involve a husband and two or more wives; not vice versa. If polygamy was common, there would be far more single men than single women; a situation similar to China today.

I think claiming that the women were his wives would still present a legal problem, especially if the state recognized common-law marriage (and Utah does).

More common than not. In other words, if it’s the only show about polygamy, it should be about the norm, not the best case scenario.

If we include brainwashed, I’d guess almost all. In any case where women must “escape” from a “compound” there’s serious issues.

Sunspace- we charge big time criminals with money laundering and tax evasion too. Money laundering is just moving your own money around, isn’t it?

“Cohabit” doesn’t mean “live with” in a legal sense. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t tell you for sure what it consists of, but I believe there must be an intimate relationship going on there.

No it is not, money laundering is taking “dirty” (AKA Illegally obtained money or money obtained from illegal activities) and giving it a legitimate appearences.

I can move all the money I want around as much as I want as long as it’s “honest money.” Or rather money earned within the bounds of the law.

If I am selling you, an attorney, cocaine and you are billing me for legal services this is money laundering. You are pretending to give the man selling you cocaine legal services to make everything look legit.