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Countries with legal polygamy (green)

Polygamy ( ancient Greek polys "a lot", and gamos "marriage") or Vielehigkeit referred in people a form of frequent before and the leadership of "simultaneous marriage-like relationships." Its opposite is monogamy (monogamy). Both forms are also explored by behavioral biology in the animal world .

A distinction is made between polygyny ( polygyny : one man, several wives) and polyandry ( polyandry : one woman, several husbands) and polygynandry ( group marriage ) and other forms of marriage in which several women and several men are involved. While polyandry (multiple husbands) is particularly widespread in simple arable crops , polygyny (multiple wives) is primarily found in cultures with a stockbreeding background. Requirement in both cases is that a person in the role of breadwinner (in) have several spouses and may hedge economically.

Existing polygamy in the regions of the world

Polygamy in the western world

In the western world , polygamous civil marriages are not permitted. In open marriages, however, love relationships with several partners can be maintained privately and by mutual consent (compare polyamory ).

Polygamy in Germany

In principle, bigamy , i.e. entering into a second marriage in addition to an existing one, is not permitted in Germany according to Section 1306 of the German Civil Code and is punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine (see Section 172 of the German Criminal Code ). However, the legal prohibition of plural marriage in Germany does not automatically prevent the effectiveness of further marriages that have actually taken place; even a second marriage concluded in Germany (e.g. if the registrar did not recognize the first marriage due to cheating) is normally effective and can only be revoked. Particularly relevant in practice are cases in which a married person remarries abroad or a foreign marriage in Germany is completely concealed and thus a further marriage is made possible.

In principle, only the conclusion of another marriage is prohibited under criminal law, not the conduct of the marriage itself. In any case, in those cases in which a plural marriage has permissibly entered into, the German law on foreigners also contains explicit regulations on the reunification of spouses . For example, Section 30 (4) of the Residence Act stipulates that the right to reunification can only exist for one of the spouses at a time. However, this does not exclude the possibility of a further spouse joining you if the marital partnership with the spouse who joined first is annulled ( separated life ). In these cases, the first spouse to join you may lose their right of residence, provided they have not already acquired their own right of residence.

On May 29, 2018, the Federal Administrative Court ruled that a second marriage concluded abroad does not conflict with a naturalization claim according to § 10 StAG . Authorities and lower courts had previously taken the view that plural marriages were incompatible with the free and democratic basic order . The Federal Administrative Court countered this in its judgment that the principle of "civil-legal monogamy" does not belong to the free-democratic basic order, but is rather a commitment to law and the human rights specified in the Basic Law. However, the legislature is free to make a “classification into the German living conditions” as a prerequisite for the naturalization of a spouse or partner in accordance with Section 9 of the StAG.

On June 27, 2019, the Federal Government tightened the German Citizenship Act by passing a bill in the Bundestag , according to which naturalization by the authorities is not permitted if the applicant lives in a plural or plural marriage.

Polygamy in Switzerland

According to the Swiss Criminal Code , polygamy is prohibited. Art. 215 StGB was adapted to the new institute of the registered partnership and now reads:

"Anyone who enters into a marriage or has a partnership registered even though he is married or lives in a registered partnership, who enters into marriage or has the partnership registered with a person who is married or lives in a registered partnership, is subject to up to three imprisonment Years or a fine. "

- Article 215 of the Criminal Code

Polygamy in the UK

The UK has bigamy laws designed to prevent polygamy. In 1922 a British woman from Sheffield confessed to being married to 61 men. This is the highest number of marriages known to date.

Polygamy in the United States of America

Polygamy is prohibited in the United States . However, in the past it was mostly practiced by Mormon denominations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially renounced the practice in 1890 , but some retained the practice and subsequently formed special communities. Most polygamists in the United States live inconspicuously in remote rural locations, particularly in Utah, and the prosecutors took no further interest in them. In the only trial within 50 years, a self-confessed polygamous Mormon with five wives and 29 children was sentenced to five years imprisonment and repayment of the equivalent of EUR 110,000 in welfare benefits.

Polygamy in Oceania

Among the original population of New Guinea and the surrounding islands, polygamy exists both in the form of polygyny (polygamy) and as polyandry ( polyandry ). The topic is socially controversial and is also related to the practice of the bride price and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Polygamy in Africa

In the Kingdom of Swaziland in southern Africa, polygamy is not uncommon. The current King Mswati III. currently (as of 2017) has 14 wives. His father, King Sobhuza II , who died in 1982, had around 70 wives and 210 children.

The President of South Africa elected in May 2009, Jacob Zuma , was South Africa's first polygamous head of state. He has four wives.

In March 2014, the Parliament passed Kenya a law that legalized polygamy in Kenya. Accordingly, married men are allowed to take other wives. The number of possible wives is not specified. The husband does not have to inform his previous wife (s), nor do they have a right of objection if the husband wants to marry a new woman. In particular because of the lack of obligation to inform or consult the previous wives (and not because of polygamy itself), 30 of the 69 female MPs protested. However, they were outvoted by their male colleagues in the 349-member parliament.

Polygamy in china

Polyandry between brothers and a woman is common among the Kham people of Qinghai Province in China .

Polygamy in the world religions

Polygamy in Christianity

All major beliefs in Christianity reject polygamy. It is therefore prohibited or not common in almost all countries that have been Christian for a long time.

In the Greek cultural area, in which Christianity first spread, polygamy, in the sense of several marriages with free and equal women, had practically disappeared for several centuries, even if concubinations with female slaves were widespread. Spreading Christian theology preached monogamy , although a polygamous practice of some early Biblical patriarchs was passed down. Since the new belief began to spread into new cultures, however, the question of plural marriage played a role time and again. In earlier times this was the case with Normans and other Germanic peoples, who continued to cultivate plural marriage for centuries after their Christianization. The Christian Emperor Charlemagne , like various other Germanic-Christian princes of his time, had several wives and concubines.

In Christian reform movements, the question of polygamy played a role over and over again through the centuries. During the Reformation , Martin Luther advised Landgrave Philip of Hesse to keep his second marriage (a morganatic marriage ) secret for the sake of public order (see legendary background ). The "Anabaptists of Münster" ( Anabaptists ) practiced polygamy, but this practice did not survive the defeat of 1535 in a publicly sanctioned form.

Polygamy has been practiced by the Mormons, who are on the fringes of Christianity, since the 19th century. Some Mormon splinter groups still hold on to it today (see sections: Polygamy in Mormonism and Polygamy in the United States of America ). In many countries with a Christian background, polygamy still plays a role today. Examples are the Philippines , various Pacific countries such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji or large parts of Africa . However, polygamists in these countries are usually not organized in special churches or groups. Here polygamy is often seen as a relic of pre-Christian times; different in North America, where there are small polygamous churches and other groups.

The Roman Catholic Church has opposed any legal tolerance of polygamy. The problems associated with polygamy should neither be justified in the name of religious freedom nor belittled by a “misunderstood multiculturalism”.

Polygamy and the Bible

Nowhere in the Old and New Testaments is polygamy fundamentally condemned. Marriage as a fundamental social institution is even regulated in detail in the Old Testament with regard to the behavior of a husband towards several wives (polyandry was not intended).

In certain cases, such as the Levirate marriage ( Dtn 25.5–10  LUT ), a marriage with the wife of the brother who died childless before is even expressly prescribed, regardless of any further marriages, in order to secure the inheritance of the deceased brother. This is the subject of the story of Judah and Tamar ( Gen 38  LUT ). Levirate marriage can be waived if the wife of the deceased brother expressly waives this right to which she is entitled.

The simultaneous marriage of godly men with several women was nothing unusual in the Old Testament for men with sufficient income in addition to the sexual union with servants and other women of lower class. Jacob begat the heads of the later twelve tribes with the two sister wives Rachel and Leah as well as their two servants. However, problems arose at that time when the women did not get along, some of which caused displacement (for example, the servant Hagar at the instigation of Sarah as Abraham's first wife ). King David also had several wives in addition to the servants at the same time. Solomon took it to extremes with 1,000 wives and lovers, which then also seemed too much to the prophets.

Jesus Christ neither condemned polygamy in a traditional utterance, nor did he approve of it in his arguments with the Pharisees and Sadducees . It was probably not the rule in Jerusalem, or even completely out of use. There is also no mention of polygamy in the letters of the Apostles. However, in the New Testament prerequisites for bishops and elders marriage with a woman is explicitly required (1. Tim 3,2; Tit 1,6). It is generally assumed that polygamy did not even appear as a deviation in the early Church.

The early Catholic Church soon adopted the Roman-Hellenistic understanding of a monogamous marital relationship. At least since scholasticism , the Old Testament practice has even been considered objectively contrary to natural law. By divine dispensation , plural marriage was temporarily permitted at that time; however, there is no doubt about the sanctity of Old Testament examples like Jacob, who made use of this dispensation.

Polygamy in Mormonism

The plural marriage (English: "plural marriage" ) is a kind of polygamy, of Joseph Smith , founder of the religious group " Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints " (or " Rocky Mountain Saints "), and some of his closest Familiar was lived. Under Brigham Young , it was increasingly suggested to ordinary members of the Church. In the main Mormon church it was abolished de jure in 1890 and de facto in the following two decades . However, polygyny persists in some 30,000 to 50,000 families in Utah to date in some small fundamentalist Mormon groups such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints .

Polygamy in Islam

Classical Islamic law

According to classical Islamic law, polygyny ( Arabic تعدد الزوجات, DMG taʿaddud az-zauǧāt ) is considered permitted, but the maximum number of wives is limited to four. The man has to set up his own household and property for each of his wives and give a dowry. Often the women do not maintain close contact with one another, but live separately in their own apartments or rooms, sometimes in different places. Sometimes legal regulations forbid polygamy for men who cannot set up their own household for every woman. The basis for restricting plural marriage to four women is sura 4: 3:

“And if you fear that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, take as women what seems good to you, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be able to do them justice, only marry one ... "

Sura 4: 3 and the preceding verse are about marrying orphans . The guardians of orphaned girls gain an advantage, especially at the time the Koran is being written, if the wards want to marry. As their guardians, they could be tempted to marry the entrusted without paying sufficient bridal money by claiming the inheritance for themselves. The Qur'anic verse states in context that men who fear that they may not be able to treat the orphans entrusted to them that they want to marry, can take other women who are then not orphaned but should be free, the families or guardians have by their side that they can protect. However, another interpretation is also possible: If a man who is responsible for an orphan entrusted to him fears that he will not be able to treat them fairly, he can entrust his wife or wives with the task of looking after the wards.

It should be noted that these are orphans who have neither father nor mother nor other close relatives who could take over the guardianship. Because at the time the Koran was written, these people had a particularly low social status and no rights that can be reconstructed today unless they were granted by the guardian. The framework for the legal relationship between them is set out in verses 4: 23–24, which allow women to marry a man according to Islamic law according to 4: 3.

Debates and Legal Reforms

At the turn of the 20th century, various Muslim women's rights activists spoke out against polygamy. The Egyptian Qāsim Amīn, for example, in his book “The Liberation of Women”, published in 1899, put forward the view that the Koran actually forbids polygamy. In doing so he referred to sura 4: 129:

"And you cannot do justice between women, however much you may wish."

In connection with the requirement of equal treatment according to 4: 3 and arguments from the closer context, he concluded that plural marriage is only allowed in a few, particularly exceptional situations; an example given is the shortage of men following a war. In principle, however, monogamous marriage is preferable. According to the traditional understanding 4: 129 does not prohibit polygamy, but only instructs the man to treat all his women fairly, even if he will not be able to love them all in the same way or feel the same for them. This is taken from the continuation in Sura 4: 129:

“But do not lean towards (one) completely, so that you leave the other in the balance as it were. And if you make amends and fear God, then Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. "

In the Ottoman Empire , the writer Fatma Aliye (1862–1936), daughter of statesman Ahmed Cevdet Pasha and pioneer of Ottoman feminism, published her work Taʿaddüd-i Zevcat Ẕeyl in 1898/99 , in which she expressed her protest against polygamy. In their opinion, polygamy should only be allowed under special conditions. For Fatma Aliye, the fight against polygamy was part of a necessary modernization process that Ottoman society should undergo. Some time later, polygamy was again the subject of a debate, this time the two religious scholars Mansurizâde Sait (1864-1923) and Babanzâde Ahmet Naim (1872-1934) participated. While Mansurizâde put forward the view in a newspaper article in 1914 that the Turkish government should ban polygamy and that such a ban was also possible on the basis of Islamic law, Babanzâde rejected this view on the grounds that the Sunnah of the Prophet and consensus the Umma legitimized polygamy.

With the Family Law Ordinance of 1917, polygamy was restricted in the Ottoman Empire. As part of the marriage contract, the woman could now stipulate that her husband not marry other wives. If he did, one of the two women would have to be divorced. Even after that, the polygamy discussion did not die down. After the writer Cenap Şehabettin argued in an article in 1921 that polygamy was neither part of the faith nor one of the prescribed acts of Islam, he was sharply attacked by the religious scholar İskilipli Atıf Hoca (1876–1926). He said that a demand for the abolition of polygamy was tantamount to a declaration of war against Islam. However, with the Turkish Civil Code of 1926, polygamy was finally abolished in Turkey.

Todays situation

The most famous person of polygamy in Islam is certainly the former Saudi king Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud , who is believed to have had 3,000 women in his harem , which includes concubines, daughters and slaves in addition to wives. 81 children from 17 different wives are officially recognized. Most often, plural marriage is practiced among Muslims in West Africa and in some Arab states. It is less common in other regions dominated by Islam.

Polygamy in Judaism

Polygamy was allowed in Ashkenazi Judaism until around the year 1000. Then the influential Rabbi Gerschom ben Yehuda stipulated in an expert opinion to protect against the predominantly monogamous Christian environment that polygamous marriages could only be concluded with the consent of 100 rabbis, which in practice amounted to a ban. It was common in Sephardic and Oriental Judaism until the 20th century, but today the Sephardi have often moved to western countries such as France and Canada, where polygamy is forbidden, or to Israel, where the polygamy of immigration was recognized The conclusion of new polygamy was forbidden.

Polygamy is not justified or practiced in any known Orthodox movement of Ashkenazi Jews today. The controversial HasidicLubavitcher Rabbi ” only justified the theological permissibility, but not the practical one; his followers are monogamous throughout. The same situation prevails with the Orthodox Sephardi, for example the supporters of the Shas movement.

Polygamy in Hinduism

In Hinduism polygamy is not allowed, it was expressly forbidden for all Hindus in India with the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Previously, a second wife was traditionally allowed under certain circumstances if the first wife had no sons. The welfare of the deceased in the afterlife was made conditional on that to him the first-born son victim was offering. There was also polyandry locally, especially among the Nayars in the southern Indian state of Kerala and in Kinnaur in the pre-Himalayas.

Polygamy in Buddhism

Buddhism has different forms, in the west it adapts to the culture. It's about causing as little suffering as possible. There are no known general statements about polygamy.

In the ancient Buddhist Tibetan culture, which lasted until the Chinese occupation, both polygyny  - a man married to several women - and polyandry  - a woman married to several men - were tolerated. This is still practiced occasionally today. From the ethical point of view of Buddhism, it is essential that a relationship is entered into on all sides voluntarily. Not infrequently, however, such connections were entered into due to economic necessities.

See also


  • Philippe Antoine, Jeanne Nanitelamio: Peut-on échapper à la polygamie à Dakar? CEPED, Paris, 1995, ISBN 2-87762-077-8 (French).
  • Philip Leroy Kilbride: Plural Marriage for our Times: A reinvented Option? Bergin & Garvey, London, 1994, ISBN 0-89789-315-8 (English; polygamy among Mormons in the USA, polygamous tendencies in Afro-American society, situation of polygamy in West Africa, ethical evaluation in American society, legalization of polygamy).
  • Rana von Mende-Altaylı: The polygamy debate in the late phase of the Ottoman Empire: Controversies and reforms. Klaus Schwarz, Berlin, 2013.
  • Alfred Yambangba Sawadogo: La polygamie en question. L'Harmattan, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-296-01489-5 (French).

Web links

Wiktionary: polygamy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Federal Administrative Court : According to current law, multiple marriage of a foreigner does not prevent his or her naturalization. Press release No. 36/2018, May 30, 2018, accessed on June 27, 2019.
  2. Notification: Federal Administrative Court: Naturalization is possible despite a second marriage. In: Spiegel Online. May 30, 2018, accessed June 27, 2019.
  3. ^ German Bundestag : German IS fighters can lose their citizenship in the future. June 27, 2019, accessed June 27, 2019.
  4. ^ German Bundestag : Draft of a third law amending the Nationality Act. Printed matter No. 19/10518, May 29, 2019, accessed on June 27, 2019.
  5. ^ Announcement: German citizenship: People in plural marriage should be denied citizenship. In: Zeit Online. June 25, 2019, accessed June 27, 2019.
  6. a b Polygamy - Five women are four too many. In: Spiegel Online , May 19, 2001, accessed October 13, 2016
  7. US Mormon sentenced to five years in prison for polygamy. In: kath.net , accessed October 13, 2016
  8. Swazi King picks 14th wife weeks after annual Reed Dance ceremony. In: euronews. September 27, 2017, accessed March 5, 2018 .
  9. South Africa's President Zuma marries another woman ; ( Memento from April 23, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) AFP report in the Donaukurier from April 20, 2012, accessed on April 21, 2012
  10. Kenyan polygamy law: Female MPs storm out of parliament. In: BBC News. March 22, 2014, accessed March 22, 2014 . Isabel Pfaff: Polygamy in Kenya: You don't even have to ask. In: sueddeutsche.de. March 22, 2014, accessed March 22, 2014 .
  11. Angela Köckritz: Polygamy: Man, Man, Man and Woman . In: Die Zeit 14/2013, March 27, 2013.
  12. ^ Matthias Bartsch: Under the death penalty: Landgrave Philipp of Hesse and bigamy. In: Der Spiegel . November 24, 2015, accessed March 24, 2020.
  13. ^ Italy: Church warns of multiculturalism. ( Memento of March 11, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Vatican Radio , January 10, 2007
  14. JA Möhler says: "The former [namely: polygamy in Christianity] should no longer want to seriously assert anyone." ( Collected writings and essays, p. 201 ) It would also hardly be compatible with an early Church in which abstinence was so highly valued that Paul even had to stand up for the mere allowance of marriage at one point.
  15. Cf. Qāsim Amīn: The Liberation of Women . From the Arab. transfer by Oskar Rescher . Echter, Würzburg, 1992, pp. 109-115.
  16. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, p. 43.
  17. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, pp. 83–87.
  18. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, pp. 151–153.
  19. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, pp. 171–175.
  20. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, pp. 180-183.
  21. Cf. Mende-Altaylı: The Polygamy Debate . 2013, pp. 195-201.
  22. ^ Robert D. Baird: Gender Implications for a Uniform Civil Code. In: Gerald James Larson (Ed.): Religion and Personal Law in Secular India - A Call to Judgment. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2001, ISBN 978-0-253-10868-5 , pp. 145-162, here p. 153 ( side view in the Google book search).