Legal Status of Polygamy/Bigamy: US M

It was in writing this post that I first discovered Jason Cherry’s work. In addition to his state law reviews he has a number of other essays and reviews of US law re: non-monogamy. If you have any interest in legal status of non-monogamy or potential to change laws regarding non-monogamy, Jason’s blog is a good place to check out.

Once again I’m just updating for typos and grammar and putting in the direct link to Jason Cherry’s review for that state. Updated September 28, 2017

For those who celebrate, wishing a Merry Christmas.

As always, not intended as legal advice, just general info, consult a lawyer, etc etc.

For anyone interested in more detail on the laws and what not, Jason at Non-Monogamous Discourse has been much more thorough than I have in digging out exactly what the relevant laws are and say. He does tend to be a bit heavy on the legalese, which includes citations of relevant laws so anyone interested can look them up for themselves.

Maine:

Jason Cherry’s review

If I am reading the legalese right, only the person with two spouses is guilty of bigamy under Maine’s law, his or her second spouse is not criminalized, which is different from most states. Bigamy is a misdemeanor in Maine. The state has laws against adultery, but none against fornication or co-habitation and does not recognize common-law marriage. The adultery law only comes into play if your legal spouse brings charges, or during a divorce, otherwise it isn’t an issue.

Over all, Maine is one of the better states for polyamory, just make sure your spouse (if you have one) is on board, and you are good.

Maryland:

Jason Cherry’s review

Bigamy is a felony in Maryland, another one that seems to only charge the person who marries twice. The statute (again, if I am reading the legalese right) states that a second marriage ceremony is grounds for bigamy charge, so even if you aren’t legally married to two people, if you have a ceremony of some sort you will be in violation. Also like Maine, there is a law against adultery, but not fornication or co-habitation, and no common-law marriages. Adultery gets a $10 fine and grounds for divorce.

I think it is safe to say that as long as you don’t have ceremonies celebrating your relationships in Maryland, you can do pretty much whatever. Personally, I’d consider a $10 fine and grounds for divorce on adultery a non-issue. If someone wants to divorce me they can whether or not there has been adultery, and $10 is not that big a deal for most people.

Massachusetts:

Jason Cherry’s review

Another felony state that only charges the person with two spouses, except that Mass also considers it bigamy if you cohabit with the second partner, whether or not there is a marriage or any claim of the second partner as a spouse. Unfortunately, Massachusetts fits its uptight, puritanical stereotype with laws against fornication, adultery and ‘lewd and lasciviousĀ  behavior’ any or all of which may be used against polyam folk.

The laws aside, there have been several poly family in Massachusetts who have gone public and spoken with the media about their lifestyle, and to the best of my knowledge not have any legal consequences. So while technically polyam living in Massachusetts are in a bad place, in actuality you may be alright, even if you don’t fly completely under the radar.

Michigan:

Jason Cherry’s review

Michigan is something of an oddball with a bunch of not-quite related laws that add up to a mess I wouldn’t want to begin to decipher. For instance, on bigamy – it is illegal to contract a second marriage, next section of the law says that a second marriage is automatically void; yet this marriage that is voided even as it happens is still a felony. Oh – and an interesting twist that doesn’t apply to polyam families but shows someone in Michigan used their brain once upon a time: if a person enters into a second marriage believing their first marriage was over (due to divorce, death, etc) and it turns out that the first marriage hadn’t ended, than the children of the second marriage are legitimate, even though legally the marriage never existed.

In addition to bigamy laws there are laws against fornication, adultery and cohabitation, and from what Jason dug up an interesting law against teaching people about polygamy. Makes me wonder how Sunday Schools in Michigan address all of Solomon’s wives. The law against adultery only comes into play if the adulterer’s spouse objects.

Over all, Michigan is a good state to try and keep under the radar. There doesn’t seem to be any way to legally pursue a polyamorous relationship in the state. However many of the laws against it are the sort that have been on the books for ages and are rarely used any more. (Otherwise half of the college students in Michigan would be on first name basis with the judge for fornication charges.)

Minnesota:

Jason Cherry’s review

Bigamy is a felony in Minnesota, and includes an odd cohabitation clause. Basically it is illegal to cohabit with a spouse you have married bigamously in another state. I would assume this is because they can’t prosecute you for what you do outside the state’s borders (ie the marriage). There is a law against adultery, though it only comes into play if the spouse objects. The fornication law is an odd ball – it is illegal for man to have sex with an unmarried woman. So as long as the woman is married, it isn’t fornication. Of course, then it is adultery. While I didn’t find it my review of laws that apply to polygamy/bigamy, I expect there was a sodomy law at some point that covered sex between people of the same gender.

Given that adultery only comes into play if the spouse objects, a married woman is in the best situation as far as polyamory is concerned in Minnesota – as long as her spouse is ok with it she shouldn’t be able to be charged with anything. Similarly a person who is involved with a married woman is ok, and two married couples or similar set ups should get by fine as long as they don’t live together (that cohabitation clause technically only applies to bigamy from out of state, but no reason to take chances). As soon as there is an unmarried woman, a spouse who objects, or a second marriage, the law will theoretically take issue.

Mississippi:

Jason Cherry’s review

Bigamy is a felony in Mississippi. There is also a law against adultery, which also covers fornication between people who aren’t married (how that fits under adultery I doubt I’ll ever understand). There is a caveat that the adultery law can only come into play is it is habitual, so a one night stand won’t get anyone in trouble but a regular partner might. Like Michigan there is a law against teaching polygamy, and a law against having children outside of marriage.

The no teaching polygamy technically shouldn’t apply to polyamory, but there is no guarantee a judge will see it that way. Overall, Mississippi is very inhospitable to polyam folk, though in theory most cops have better things to do with their time than chase down fornicators and adulterers. (Of course in theory most cops have better things to do with their time than harass people for walking while black. It will be easier for some folks–white, financially well off, hetero, etc, to avoid legal trouble.)

Missouri:

Jason Cherry’s review

In Missouri it is bigamy whether you actually get married to a second person, or simply act like you are married to a second person. On the other hand, bigamy is a misdemeanor, so it isn’t as big a deal as it might be. I have one source saying there is a law against adultery but it is only a crime if the spouse objects, another source says there is no law against adultery. In general I consider the source saying there is no law more reliable, but better safe. There is no fornication law, and no mention anywhere of a law against cohabitation.

Missouri is a decent state for polyam folk, over all. If no one in the polyam network/relationship/whatnot is married you are good to go. If someone is married make sure that any spouses are happy with the set up and that the legally married folks are in no way presenting the appearance of being married to another person and it should be good.

Montana:

Jason Cherry’s review

Another state where bigamy is a misdemeanor. Also no fornication or adultery laws, though one source mentions a law against cohabitation. Like Missouri acting like you are married (purporting is the technical term) can get you in trouble over the bigamy law. Purporting can include calling a partner husband/wife/spouse, claiming to be married to them, filing taxes together, etc.

Generally decent spot to be polyamorous. Living in separate residences, or living just with a legally married spouse avoids any cohabitation law that may exist, and then just make sure to keep from presenting as married to more than 1 person and everything is good.

Ok, there are a lot of M states here, it’s late and I’m exhausted. So stopping here for the night. Be well all.

10 responses to “Legal Status of Polygamy/Bigamy: US M

  1. Where can I find the states that start with letters other than M?

    • The easiest way to find them is probably to look in the “Legal Stuff” category. I never got past Ne, and for a review from someone with legal training I highly recommend checking out Jason Cherry’s Non-Monogamous Discourse.

  2. Rachel Kirkland

    Hi! These summaries are awesome. Do you still have record of the links to the state statutes you looked at? That’d be a super helpful resource!

  3. What about what the Bible says!

    • What the Bible says is not relevant to the laws of American states. I have covered religious views of polyamory elsewhere.

  4. The almost non-existent sourcing significantly reduces the usefulness of your site. The information is potentially good, but without sources it really just boils down to “what some person on the internet said”. For example: Missouri ” I have one source saying there is a law against adultery but it is only a crime if the spouse objects, another source says there is no law against adultery.” — Okay so share them? If you have sources, link them. That’s much more useful to your readers. As it stands, I would not rely on or reference your site.

    Yes this comment is 3 years later. Welcome to the internet šŸ˜‰

    • Fair enough.

      Actually, this comment is ~five years later. The post date is when I moved to self hosting, not the actual post of the blog. For a good reference on legality of polyamory I recommend Jason Cherry’s Non-Monogamous Discourse. He stopped updating the blog a few years ago, but his in depth reviews of legal statutes, state-by-state, from 2011 and 2012 are still up. I stopped adding to this blog series when I realized he was doing a better job of covering this topic than I could.

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