Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states as indicated by the map to the right. The law does not distinguish between polygamy and bigamy. By law, you are guilty of both if you marry OR cohabit with more than one person that you claim as a spouse. A ceremony is NOT required to prove either the 1st marriage or those that follow. A marriage license is also NOT required. Law enforcement simply has to prove marital intent. They may use common law marriage standards, cohabitation, or any other activities to prove their case for polygamy.
In some cases poly people/families are at risk for related infractions as well. For example, they can be charged with adultery, fornication, and cohabitation.
BIGAMY (A misdemeanor)
These states have minimal criminalization (akin to driving without a license). They characterize bigamy as a misdemeanor and require all those convicted to pay a fine.
- Hawaii ***30 days in jail***
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island *** $1,000 fine***
If you are poly in the following states and the relationship falls apart you may be at risk for violating laws against adultery. The ramifications of these violations vary from one state to another. For some states adultery is grounds for divorce only. In other states, the “cheating” spouse forfeits all rights to the marital property. And still in other states the spouse that was “cheated on” can file criminal charges against their ex. This is obviously only a problem if the poly relationship falls apart.
- Maryland ***Results in a $10 fine and is grounds for divorce***
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
ADULTERY & FORNICATION
In the following states, poly people can be charged with adultery and fornication. Both are treated as misdemeanors.
- Illinois ***must be “open and notorious”***
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
These states have laws against cohabitation.
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
ADULTERY (A felony) & COMMON LAW MARRIAGE
In these states, common law marriage is recognized and adultery is not only illegal but a felony.
- New Hampshire ***Recognizes common-law marriages, but only for inheritance purposes after death***
- Rhode Island
- Texas ***Recognizes common law marriage if registered by County Clerk***
- Washington D.C.
THE AS-GOOD-AS-IT-GETS STATES
These states have NO laws against adultery, cohabitation, or fornication. And they do not recognize common law marriages, although 4 of the 5 treat polygamy as a felony.
To summarize, if you are active in the poly lifestyle you are at risk for legal action either by the state or your partners. Aside from the obvious consequences – spending time in jail, fines, and criminal records, there are other things to consider. A conviction that mandates jail time can also result in a loss of employment and/or benefits. It can also result in the loss of child custody. In some states felony convictions are automatic grounds for losing a number of rights and privileges, including voting rights, student loans, etc. The criminalization of this lifestyle attempts to push adults, children, and families into the shadows, making them fearful, ashamed, and ultimately vulnerable to discrimination, persecution, and generally unfair treatment. And for what? Where’s the harm?