Is Polygamy Legal In Utah

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses simultaneously, has long been a subject of fascination and controversy in the United States. At the center of this debate stands Utah, a state renowned for its historical association with polygamous communities. In this exceptionally comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the intricate web of polygamy laws in Utah and across the United States. From the legal nuances to the societal implications, this article aims to leave no stone unturned.

Utah Polygamy Law: Understanding the Basics

Polygamy in Utah is governed by a specific legal framework outlined in Utah Code 76-7-101. Let’s break down the key elements of this law:

Definition of Bigamy

According to Utah Code 76-7-101, the cornerstone of Utah’s polygamy law is the definition of bigamy. A person is considered guilty of bigamy in Utah if they meet the following criteria:

MarriedThe individual is already legally married to one person.
Cohabit with another personThey live together and engage in a domestic partnership.
Purport to marry another personThey attempt to enter into a formal marriage with another.

This definition highlights that a person commits bigamy not only by entering into a second marriage but also by cohabiting with someone else or attempting to marry another person while being legally married.

Cohabitation vs. Marriage

Understanding the distinction between cohabitation and marriage is crucial within the context of Utah’s polygamy law:

  • Cohabitation: Cohabitation refers to living together as partners without the legal formalities of marriage. This can include sharing a home, financial responsibilities, and engaging in a domestic relationship. However, it lacks the legal recognition that marriage provides.
  • Marriage: Marriage, on the other hand, is a formal union recognized by the state. It involves obtaining a marriage license, conducting a ceremony, and fulfilling legal requirements. Marriages in Utah must adhere to state laws, including those pertaining to age, consent, and ceremony.

Penalties for Violating Utah’s Polygamy Law

Utah Code 76-7-101 outlines the penalties for those found guilty of bigamy:

Felony Bigamy (Marriage and Cohabitation)Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines.
Attempted Bigamy (Purporting to Marry)Class B misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 6 months in jail.
Felony Bigamy with Deceptive IntentClass B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail.

It’s important to note that these penalties can vary depending on the circumstances, such as whether there was deceptive intent or coercion involved in the violation of the law.

Historical Context

Utah’s strict stance on polygamy has historical roots dating back to the 19th century when the practice was prevalent among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The federal government’s opposition to polygamy played a significant role in Utah’s statehood, as it required the abandonment of polygamy as a condition for statehood.

Modern Application

While polygamy is still practiced by some groups in Utah, it remains a controversial and legally restricted practice. The state’s polygamy law, Utah Code 76-7-101, is actively enforced, and individuals found in violation of this law can face legal consequences.

The Legal Status of Polygamy in the USA

Polygamy laws vary from state to state in the USA. Here’s a brief overview of the broader legal landscape:

  • All 50 States Prohibit Polygamy: Across the United States, polygamy is illegal. However, enforcement and penalties differ significantly.
  • Utah’s Unique Position: Utah is exceptional as it has decriminalized polygamy, making it punishable by a fine akin to a traffic ticket.

Utah’s Unique Stance on Polygamy

Utah’s historical association with polygamous groups has contributed to its distinctive approach to polygamy laws. Explore the following aspects of Utah’s unique stance:

  • Historical Context: Utah’s historical ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and early polygamous communities have shaped its polygamy laws.
  • Article III of the Utah Constitution: The Utah Constitution explicitly prohibits polygamous or plural marriages while guaranteeing perfect toleration of religious sentiment.

Deciphering Utah’s Marriage Laws Pertaining to Polygamy

Alt: Stamp and gavel with two rainbow rings. 

Utah’s marriage laws play a critical role in understanding the legality of polygamous unions:

Marriage Licensing in Utah

Marriage licensing is a fundamental aspect of Utah’s marriage laws, applicable to all marriages, including those in polygamous unions. Here’s a breakdown of key points regarding marriage licensing in Utah:

Valid Marriage LicenseUtah law mandates that all marriages, whether monogamous or polygamous, must have a valid marriage license for legal recognition. This means that even in polygamous unions, participants need to obtain a marriage license to be considered legally married.
Age RequirementsTo obtain a marriage license in Utah, both parties must be at least 18 years old. Exceptions may apply if parental or court consent is obtained.
Waiting PeriodUtah has a waiting period of three days after obtaining a marriage license before the marriage ceremony can take place. This waiting period can be waived under certain circumstances.
License ExpirationA Utah marriage license is valid for 30 days from the date of issuance. If not used within this timeframe, it expires, and a new license must be obtained.

Solemnized vs. Unsolemnized Marriages

Utah makes a clear distinction between solemnized marriages (state-sanctioned) and unsolemnized marriages (religious or common-law). Understanding this distinction is crucial for those considering or involved in polygamous unions:

CategorySolemnized MarriagesUnsolemnized Marriages
Legal RecognitionOfficially recognized by the state of UtahNot legally recognized in Utah
Marriage LicenseRequiredNot required
CeremonyInvolves a ceremony officiated by a licensed officiant, such as a judge, minister, or religious leaderMay not involve a formal marriage ceremony
FilingMarriage certificate is filed with the county clerk’s office after the ceremonyNo official filing with county clerk’s office
Legal ProtectionsOffers legal protections, rights, and responsibilities, including inheritance and property rightsDoes not offer legal protections, rights, or responsibilities
NatureLegal UnionSpiritual or religious unions but not legally binding

Legal Implications for Polygamous Unions in Utah:

Utah’s history is closely tied to polygamy, with the practice having deep roots in the state’s past. However, as of my knowledge cutoff date in September 2021, Utah strictly prohibits polygamous marriages. The state’s legal stance on polygamy is as follows:

  • Polygamy is Illegal: Under Utah law, being involved in a polygamous marriage is considered a criminal offense. Participants in such unions can face felony charges, including bigamy and unlawful cohabitation.
  • Prosecution: Utah has actively prosecuted cases involving polygamy, with individuals facing potential fines and imprisonment if found guilty.
  • Polygamous Sects: Some religious sects in Utah have historically practiced polygamy, and the state has taken measures to crack down on such communities.
  • Child Welfare: Concerns have been raised regarding child welfare and underage marriages within some polygamous communities, prompting legal actions aimed at protecting minors.

Cohabitation and Marriage: The Fine Line in Utah

Navigating the legal boundaries between cohabitation and marriage is crucial for understanding the practical implications of Utah’s polygamy laws:

  • Cohabitation: Living with multiple partners without formal marriage is not illegal in Utah.
  • Purport to Marry: Utah’s law includes the phrase “purport to marry,” which has sparked debates regarding its interpretation and enforcement.


Polygamy in Utah and the United States is a complex legal and societal issue. While Utah has taken a unique approach by decriminalizing polygamy, the practice remains illegal in all other states. Understanding the nuances of Utah’s polygamy laws, its historical context, and the broader legal landscape in the USA is essential for anyone interested in this captivating and often debated subject.


Q1: Does Utah allow polygamy?

Yes, Utah has decriminalized polygamy, making it unique among the states. Penalties for polygamy in Utah are less severe than in other states.

Q2: Can you have more than one wife in Utah?

Yes, you can legally have more than one wife in Utah, as long as it complies with the state’s decriminalized polygamy laws.

Q3: Can you marry more than one person in Utah?

While you cannot have multiple legal marriage licenses in Utah, the state does not criminalize cohabitation with multiple partners, provided it is not done with fraudulent intent.