Polygamy, Part 1 of 3

(marriage comes in a variety of formats)

Marriage is more complicated than most people realize!

In the field of anthropology, polygamy is defined as the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time; however, if one has two spouses, it is called bigamy so it may be safely assumed that since poly (in this case) means “many”, then polygamy etymologically means “many marriages” or a “multitude of marriages”. Of course, monogamy refers to the marriage of “one spouse” at a time.

Be aware that polygamy does not necessarily mean being married to several women or having several wives. It could also refer to a woman who is married to several men or who has a multitude of husbands; also known as polyandry.

In the field of zoology, polygamy refers to animal mating (male or female) in which an individual mates with more than one animal during any single breeding season. In biology, the mating of a single male with several females or the presence of many queens within a single colony of social insects is called “polygyny“.

On the other hand, when a male mates with just one female or there is only one queen in a colony of social insects, it is called “monogyny”; or if with a few females, “oligogyny.” Of course, in these situations, marriage (gamy) is not relevant to what we consider marriage among humans.

Thoughts between married couples.
Used with special permission from the cartoonist, Randy Glasbergen.

Whoever thinks marriage is a 50-50 proposition doesn't know the half of it.

—Franklin P. Jones

So, what is polygamy?

  • Polygamy is defined as having a plurality of wives or husbands at the same time; usually, the marriage of a man to more than one woman, or the practice of having several wives, at the same time.
  • Polygyny, the state or practice of having several wives at the same time; marriage to several wives.
  • Polyandry, the possession by a woman of more than one husband at the same time.
  • Bigamy, legally, the offense of marrying another person when already legally married to someone.
  • It is not widely known that polygamous marriages are allowed in the majority of the world’s cultures.
  • Some people believe that monogamy is a valid choice for some people at some times, but there also needs to be other legitimate options for marriage and family life.
  • Certainly the alarming divorce rate and skyrocketing number of single parent families are indicators of how badly we need old proven “Biblical models” for marriage.
  • While polygamy was a widespread institution in ancient civilizations, it remains in practice in a few individual countries and is firmly established on the continent of Africa and in the Islamic world.
  • Polygamy, or plural marriage, refers to the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time. It can take the form of a man having more than one wife concurrently (polygyny) or a woman having more than one husband concurrently (polyandry).

—Essentially compiled from information located in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.; William Benton, Publisher;
Chicago; 1968; Volume 18, pages 193-194 & 201 + Volume 10, page 952.

Pointing to a page about polygamy. Part 2 of polygamy is continued here.