Is Multiple Wives legal in Utah?

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Utah, a state nestled in the heart of the American West, evokes images of stunning landscapes, religious devotion, and a unique cultural heritage. It is often associated with the historical practice of polygamy, where a man takes multiple wives. This captivating topic has sparked numerous debates, discussions, and legal inquiries. In this blog post, we delve into the intricate web of laws, history, and societal norms surrounding the question: Is multiple wives legal in Utah?

Is Multiple Wives legal in Utah?

Polygamy in Utah: A Historical Perspective

Utah’s historical association with polygamy can be traced back to the mid-19th century when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, settled in the region. The doctrine of plural marriage was embraced by early Mormon leaders as a religious tenet. For decades, this practice thrived within the Utah territory, often generating curiosity and controversy beyond its borders.

However, in the late 19th century, polygamy faced increasing scrutiny from the federal government. The United States Congress passed the Edmunds Act in 1882, which made polygamy a criminal offense. The subsequent Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 further intensified the crackdown on polygamy, disincorporating the LDS Church and seizing its assets. These legal measures aimed to eliminate the practice of plural marriage in Utah and establish monogamy as the legal and social norm.

The Legal Landscape: Contemporary Polygamy Laws

The Utah Constitution and Bigamy

The Utah State Constitution, adopted in 1895, expressly prohibits bigamy, which is the act of marrying multiple spouses simultaneously. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution states, “Polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited within this state.” This constitutional provision solidified the legal status of monogamy in Utah, aligning the state’s laws with prevailing societal norms.

However, it is essential to note that while the state constitution expressly forbids polygamous marriages, it does not criminalize cohabitation or informal relationships involving multiple partners. This legal nuance has allowed some individuals to navigate the boundaries of traditional marriage while avoiding prosecution under bigamy laws.

The Legacy of Reynolds v. United States

One landmark legal case that significantly shaped the landscape of polygamy in Utah is Reynolds v. United States, decided by the Supreme Court in 1878. In this case, George Reynolds, a Mormon, challenged the federal anti-polygamy laws, arguing that they violated his First Amendment rights to religious freedom.

However, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Reynolds, establishing a precedent that religious beliefs, no matter how deeply held, cannot justify acts that are deemed illegal by the government. Chief Justice Morrison Waite, delivering the Court’s opinion, famously stated, “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land.”

The decision in Reynolds v. United States reinforced the government’s authority to regulate and criminalize polygamy, even if it stemmed from religious convictions. This legal precedent continues to inform the legal landscape surrounding polygamy in Utah.

The Modern Polygamy Movement

Plural Families and Co-Habitation

While legally recognized polygamous marriages are not permitted in Utah, there exist a number of plural families that continue to practice polygamy, often referring to it as “spiritual marriage.” These families generally live in close-knit communities, emphasizing shared values, mutual support, and cooperation.

However, it is important to distinguish between consensual adult relationships and cases involving coercion, abuse, or underage marriages. Authorities in Utah actively pursue cases involving unlawful practices or violations of individual rights within polygamous communities.

The Status of Civil Unions

In recent years, there have been discussions about legalizing civil unions or similar legal frameworks for polygamous relationships. Advocates argue that providing legal recognition and protection for plural families could help address issues such as inheritance rights, healthcare decisions, and child custody. However, no significant legal changes have been made in this regard thus far, and the legality of such arrangements remains uncertain.

Utah’s “Sister Wives” Case:

One notable case that brought attention to the issue of polygamy in Utah is the “Sister Wives” case. In 2010, the Brown family, stars of the reality TV show “Sister Wives,” challenged Utah’s anti-polygamy laws, arguing that the laws violated their constitutional rights to freedom of religion and privacy. The case raised important questions about the boundaries between religious freedom and state regulation. However, in 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the existing anti-polygamy laws intact.

Public Opinion and Legislative Debates:

Polygamy remains a topic of public interest and ongoing debate in Utah. Some argue that consenting adults should have the right to enter into polygamous relationships without interference from the state, citing principles of personal freedom and individual choice. Others maintain concerns about potential abuses within polygamous communities, such as coercion, underage marriages, and gender inequality.

It’s worth noting that while discussions on the topic have taken place, there have been no significant changes in the legal status of multiple wives in Utah. The state’s laws prohibiting polygamy and its recognition of only monogamous marriages remain in effect.


The topic of multiple wives in Utah is a complex and multifaceted one, steeped in history, religion, and legal intricacies. While the practice of polygamy has faced legal opposition for over a century, it continues to persist in various forms within certain communities. As societal norms evolve and discussions surrounding legal frameworks for plural relationships gain momentum, the legal status of multiple wives in Utah remains a subject of ongoing debate and exploration.

Is Multiple Wives legal in Utah?
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