With the Canadian courts due to rule on the country’s anti-polygamy law in less than two weeks, this seems to be a topical time to review the laws regarding polygamy and their impact on polyamory. I’ll be starting with the laws in the US, and will also look at laws in a few other countries (mostly the ones I get visitors from regularly.) If you would like your country included, feel free to let me know and I’ll see what I can find.
Polygamy/Bigamy Laws in the United States:
The only extant federal laws against polygamy dates from the late 1800s and applies only to US territories that are directly administered by the federal government. (Here’s looking at you Puerto Rico!) While I haven’t found the full text of the laws, the general idea of the first made it a felony to marry a second person while still married to your first spouse. The second closed a loop hole in the first saying that a person who was married could not legally co-habit with a member of the opposite sex other than their spouse.
Laws specific to the individual territories may add to these restrictions, but under federal law a polyamorous relationship isn’t a problem as long you don’t live with anyone other than you legal spouse, or simply don’t get married.
Every state in the US has laws against bigamy, some class it as a misdemeanor others as a felony. One website trying to get people worked up against bigamy claims with much outrage that in every state bigamy is punished less harshly that driving under the influence. Personally, I want to know what is wrong with a person who thinks having an extra marriage deserves worse punishment than endangering innocents by driving a vehicle which likely weighs over a ton while in unsound state of mind.
Many states have laws against adultery and fornication, these are generally misdemeanors and very rarely enforced, so generally not something to worry about. However if you draw legal attention and they can’t get with you anything else, they may throw these at you. Fornication laws are probably unconstitutional based on a 1965 decision of the Supreme Court regarding personal privacy, but they have never been challenged as such. Probably because it is easier to pay a small fine and ignore it than fight a years long legal battle over said fine.
In general, states don’t go looking for people who violate laws regarding cohabiting, so keep your head down and you are probably alright.
The law in Alabama outlaws getting married a second time while still married to their first spouse. It is also illegal to go to another state to marry someone else while married to someone in Alabama. Alabama also has laws against co-habitation.
In general, Alabama laws say you cannot live with someone you are not married to and cannot be married to more than one person. There may also be laws against adultery and fornication.
In Alabama if you wish to be polyamorous you are best off living on your own and not getting married. Than you only need to worry about the fornication law which is almost never enforced.
In Alaska, it is a misdemeanor to marry someone who is already married, marry someone when you are already married, or participate in a marriage involving more than two people. Cohabiting is also illegal. As is adultery and fornication.
Pretty much the same as Alabama, except that bigamy is a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Bigamy (marrying a second person) is a felony in Arizona. Of note, only the person wedded to multiple people is in violation of the law, not the second person they marry. Arizona does not have laws against cohabiting. Adultery and fornication are illegal, but cohabiting is not.
Not a bad state to be polyamorous, actually. You can legally live together and not be up for anything worse than a slap on the wrist for violating a practically never-used law.
California has no laws against fornication, adultery or cohabitation. So you can live together with your poly snuggle, or you can get married and live with just your legal spouse, and in either case it is all good. Unless you have the money to pay a $10,000 fine and/or spend up to a year in prison, don’t marry more than one person.
In Colorado, it counts as bigamy whether you marry a second person or cohabit with a second person while married. Colorado is notable for having a tradition of not enforcing this law unless you draw attention to yourself or violate more serious laws (such as in the Warren Jeffs case which involved forced child marriage and rape).
Bigamy is a felony in Connecticut and it applies both to legally marrying more than one person, and to presenting yourself as married to a second person when already married to a first. So a poly woman in a triad with two men who calls both of them her husband, even if she is only legally married to one, is in violation of this law.
Connecticut also has a law against adultery that can only be brought up by the offended spouse. So if everyone is happy, the state doesn’t care. If your legal spouse changes their mind, you may by charged with adultery.
There are no laws against co-habitting, or fornication, so as long as you aren’t married, or are married to only one person and everyone is happy, you are good to be polyamorous in Connecticut.
Pretty much a repeat of Connecticut.
District of Columbia:
Technically not a state, but relevant here. Marrying a second person, or marrying someone who is already married earns a prison sentence of a minimum of 2 years. Fornication is not a crime in D.C., but adultery may be, and it may be possible to end up in a common law marriage (if you live together long enough you are considered married) my sources are unclear on that one.
Basically don’t get married and don’t live together and you can practice polyamory all you want. If you want to get married to someone, or live together, make sure you get legal advice regarding adultery and/or common law marriages in D.C.
Laws make bigamy a felony and cohabiting, adultery and fornication are illegal (wonder when they’re going to start enforcing that last on Spring Break?) Not generally a good place to be polyamorous.
Cohabiting with a second person, whether you are married to them or not, falls under the bigamy law in Georgia, which has a minimum sentence of 1 year imprisonment. Adultery and fornication are also illegal, and considered misdemeanors.