Polygamy : Legal Issues

In most countries, bigamy is illegal. However, in some countries – including America and Canada – the practice of polygamy is tolerated largely because

  • it is done as a religious practice (and thus involves issues of religious freedom), and
  • the people involved do not actually marry before the law. Rather, a man will legally marry one woman, and ‘marry’ additional wives in what they consider to be a ‘spiritual’ sense

Members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) – theologically, a cult of Mormonism (which itself is, theologically, a cult of Christianity) – use the latter approach to then obtain social security benefits, in a practice they refer to as “bleeding the beast.”

[T]he American taxpayer pays for much of this lifestyle. Recent records show in one year residents here collected more than $8-million from social services — including food stamps, welfare, health care — but the entire town paid less than $100,000 in income taxes.

“They are told to go on welfare,” Jessop said. “It’s called, “bleeding the beast.” They find it amusing that Satan is supporting God’s work.”

– Source: One Woman’s Crusade, ABC News, Mar. 4, 2004

This is one reason the practice is now under scrutiny in America – particularly in Colorado and Utah, states with significant polygamist communities.

Other reasons why polygamy has come under fire:

  • Some polygamists ‘marry’ underage girls, often (though not always) against their will
  • In some religious polygamist sects, women are treated as property, and are subject to arranged marriages

While their polygamous lifestyle was long tolerated, in recent years the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), has come under scrutiny.

In January, 2004, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs excommunicated a number of men. In the process, these men not only lost their homes, but their wives and children who – as is customary in this religious cult – were re-assigned to other men.

The resulting media coverage put long-tolerated issues with the sect on the front burner. See, for example, The Polygamy Files – a blog published by The Salt Lake Tribune.

See also:
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Mormon Fundamentalists
How polygamy went from being a “most holy and important doctrine” to being rejected – sort of – by the Mormon Church

This post was last updated: Apr. 20, 2008