Leaving Societal Norms Behind

Polygamy: Alternatives to Legal Marriage

Polygamy: Alternatives to Legal Marriage

Polygamy isn’t for everyone, and contrary to proper belief – polyamory and polygamy are NOT the same thing. Polyamory is the ability or act of loving more than one person at a time. Polygamy, on the other hand, is having multiple spouses (or being married to multiple people at the same time). Though both terms involve relationships where there are more than 2 people… one focuses on loving relationships, while the other focuses solely on marriage. Polyamory does not have to involve marriage. Polygamy does not have to involve love. See the difference? There are plenty of countries where polygamy is legal, in one form or another. Typically just so that men can have multiple wives, though. In the United States, however, and in a lot of other countries, polygamy is illegal.

  • Polygamy is an umbrella term and simply means having multiple spouses.
  • Polygyny specifically means that a man has multiple wives.
  • Polyandry specifically means that a woman has multiple husbands.
  • Group Marriage means that there is a family unit consisting of multiple husbands and multiples wives.

Now, I was tempted not to breech this topic at all, because it can be a sensitive subject within the polyamorous community. A lot of us hate when polyamory is confused with polygamy. Also, a lot of us don’t ever wish to be married, or prefer to stay off the relationship escalator all together. Still… I’ve seen the question come up enough times in our Polyamorous Living FB groups, that I felt there was probably a need for an official article of some sort to be written. Because, frankly, what are your options for marriage when the government refuses to allow it? I know there are plenty of you out there that would love to legally marry ALL of your partners, if you had the chance to do so. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be an option for quite a while (at least in most places). Don’t worry, though, there are alternatives.

Why Marriage?

Well… why does anyone want to get married? Typically it comes down to love, or ensuring some form of financial (or future) stability. Making sure your loved ones are cared for after your death is another big one. If you aren’t legally married, you generally don’t have access to things like a partner’s insurance and you get no say when it comes to anything medical. Though, this all depends on where you live…and things are constantly changing. A lot of people, obviously, just love each other so much that they want to be able to profess that love to the world. They want the labels of husband/wife/spouse, they want to have that big beautiful wedding ceremony and invite friends and family. To them – marriage is a sign of their love for each other. They want to share it with the world. Others are simply looking for a way to make sure their children are well taken care of in case of any emergency, or that if something should happen to them that their partner(s) would have final say in what happens to them in the hospital. Of course, I already mentioned financials. There may be other reasons as well, but those are the big ones.

Married couples are provided privileges that most other couples, or partners, ordinarily don’t get. Taxes, for one thing, is a big one. You can’t file together if you aren’t married. The government has a lot of say in what you do and do not deserve, in terms of finances, housing, children, etc. Legal marriage is a legal contract with the government that typically provides you with some added perks. When I talk about marriage in this way, it really makes me wonder why anyone would really want to get married? Forming a legal contract with the government, around your romantic relationship, is a really strange thing if you think about it. Nonetheless, marriage is a very popular choice. I’m not complaining or looking down on it either. I’m actually legally married, myself (though my spouse and I are no longer together). I just don’t see myself ever choosing to get legally married again. Personal choice, though. I understand the reasons why many of you want, and choose, to.

Not a “Legal” Wedding

Just as there have become many ways for you to legally get married without needing the approval of a priest (or having to get married in a church)… there have also become lots of alternatives to legal weddings. The 3 big options here are: Handfasting, Marrying in another Country, or simply Having the Big Wedding anyway. There are lots of others things, as well. Really, if you’re not going at it from a legal standpoint, you can pretty much do whatever you want in order to commemorate your love. Whether it’s some big wedding type of event (possibly under a different name), a simple gesture – like getting matching tattoos, or just a vow of love and commitment. Showing your love for your partner can be done in any number of small or large ways. You don’t need the big wedding, but if you want one, you can still have one.

First, let’s talk about Handfasting. It’s a Pagan practice but has quickly been gaining popularity amongst the polyamorous community for it’s looser commitment ceremony style, it’s separation from Christianity (and other big religions), and the fact that it isn’t confined to any sort of normal standards. Some polyamorous people will choose to get married to all partners all at once, which is an acceptable option here. (Not that it can’t be done that way without a Handfasting.) A Handfasting is typically where you choose to commit to each other, but not necessarily choose to get “married.” So this option also applies to people who aren’t into polygamy, but are looking for a grander gesture of their love for each other.

Secondly, an option that can be lots of fun – if you have the money to do it – is getting married in another country. Sometimes you can do this legally, and other times you just get to go get married under a ceremony from another culture. Obviously, anyone who is super into traveling would be into this one. Or anyone who is interested in other authentic culture practices around marriage. This will not give you any legal marriage rights in your country…even if you do somehow get legally married in another country, because your country will still only view 1 marriage as legal. This could be a fun option, especially if you go somewhere that allows you to legally marry multiple partners. Although, you can always have separate marriage ceremonies for you and each of your partners (you could even try having each wedding in a different country).

Lastly, you can just have the big wedding ceremony anyway. Why not? There’s nothing that causes it to be legally binding unless you specifically file for a marriage license. I’ve had some friends who accidentally ended up not legally married after their big beautiful wedding, simply because there was an error with the paperwork. You can definitely do this on purpose though. No paper, just invite all the family and friends (or whoever you want) and enjoy yourself. You can make it as similar to a regular wedding as you want it to be. Sometimes you can even get it done in a church, but there are obviously many limitations to this. Point is, you can have any kind of wedding ceremony you want (however big or small) regardless of legalities. You don’t need to fill out any legal paperwork, or get the government’s approval, just to throw a party. So, go for it!

Options for Legal Protections

There are also plenty of alternatives out there when it comes to granting your partner(s) some legal protection, financial stability, and so on. One option that some polyamorous people choose is to form a company with all those involved in the relationship. The company serves as a sort of marriage certificate for everybody, in that it legally binds all those involved in one or more ways. By doing this you can combine finances, grant legal and medical protections, and all sorts of other things under the guise of a company. I’ve never personally tried this, but heard from others that it can be a great option. Alternatively, you can always go the traditional route by getting legal protection individually. When it comes to children there are always things like granting guardianship, or putting people in your will as the intended parents for your child after your death. Obviously, one of those is only good for after you’re dead, and the other will grant your partner legal rights while you’re still alive. It depends on what you’re wanting. As far as having medical say for your partner, there are also legal forms you can fill out for that, too. Same goes for financial matters. It can be annoying to have to jump through more hoops in order to have your partner be granted the same rights as they would automatically get if they were your legal spouse, but there are definitely ways around legal marriage as the “only” option.


Do what you want. There’s always a way around legalities, or through them down a different route. If you want the big wedding, then have it. If you want to marry tons of people all at once, do it. If you want to have separate weddings for you and each partner, go for it. If you want a small intimate ceremony, why not? Who is stopping you? Yes, find ways to cover the legal aspects, if that is something you are concerned about. There are choices out there for you. But, as far as the wedding goes…it is completely up to you. No one is stopping you from having one wedding with 20 people in it, or 50 individual couple weddings, or getting married in tons of different countries, or trying something new, or using old customs but throwing out the legal aspects, etc. There is also no one who is going around and correcting your label choices. If you want to call them husband/wife/spouse, there is nothing standing in your way. If you love them, and marriage is important to you, then do it. It’s your life!

P.S. We are aware that in some places it is still illegal to have multiple adult households, whether children are involved or not. We sympathize with you! However, there are always ways to create a loving family without everyone living under the same roof. Get creative. You’ve got this!

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I am a pansexual, demisexual, greysexual, homoromantic, non-binary, transmasculine, genderfluid, solo-polyamorous relationship anarchist; as well as a plant-based Wiccan mama. I'm also neurodivergent, and overall identify as Queer. I love writing, photography, dancing, travel, hiking, cooking, gaming, planning, and motherhood.

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