Can a woman have multiple husbands in Utah?

In short, no – polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands) is currently illegal in Utah. Utah only recognizes monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. However, polyandry does have some history and connections to the Mormon religion commonly associated with Utah.

Quick Facts on Polyandry in Utah

  • Polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands) is illegal in Utah
  • Utah only allows monogamous marriage between one man and one woman
  • Polyandry has some history in the early Mormon church but was discontinued
  • Some early Mormon leaders practiced polyandry during the 19th century
  • Polyandry is still practiced rarely in some obscure fundamentalist sects

The Legality of Polyandry in Utah

Polyandry is considered illegal in Utah today. Utah’s bigamy laws explicitly prohibit a person from having multiple valid marriage licenses at the same time. This applies to both polygyny (a man having multiple wives) and polyandry (a woman having multiple husbands). Anyone engaging in a polygamous marriage in Utah would be committing a felony offense punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Polygamy became illegal in the United States largely due to anti-polygamy legislation aimed at the early Mormon church in the late 19th century. In the 1860s and 1870s, the U.S. Congress passed a series of acts focused on eliminating polygamy in U.S. territories, disincorporated the early Mormon church, and allowed the seizure of church assets for practicing polygamy. Utah’s entrance into statehood was conditioned on banning polygamy in its state constitution. So when Utah became a state in 1896, polyandry and polygyny were solidly illegal.

Today, the predominant Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) officially banned the practice of polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates any members found practicing it. However, some small fundamentalist groups split from the mainstream Mormon church in order to continue practicing polygamy. Most are located in remote areas of Utah and nearby states. Authorities mostly leave these groups alone as long as only adults are involved in plural marriages. Nonetheless, polyandry remains technically illegal according to Utah law.

Polyandry and the History of the Mormon Church

There are some connections between polyandry and the early Mormon church in the 1800s. These linkages contribute to the lingering association between Utah, Mormons, and polygamy.

In the early days of the Mormon church founded by Joseph Smith, polygamy was practiced by Smith and other church leaders. Though polygyny was more common, some male leaders also engaged in polyandrous marriages where they married multiple women who already had living husbands. Reasons for these polyandrous marriages are debated by historians, but may have included sealing the husbands to the church, proving devotion to the faith, and expanding connections between families and leadership.

Some famous polyandrous marriages include:

  • Zina Huntington married Joseph Smith while still married to her first husband Henry Jacobs
  • Presendia Buell married Joseph Smith while still married to her first husband Norman Buell
  • Mary Rollins married Brigham Young while still married to her first husband Adam Lightner
  • Patty Bartlett married David Sessions while still married to her first husband Gideon Carter

These polyandrous marriages were done in relative secrecy and were much less common than traditional polygyny. They remained extremely controversial among mainstream Mormons. The practice declined in the late 1800s and died out entirely when the church officially banned polygamy in 1890.

The legacy of early Mormon polyandry contributes to the perception that plural marriage could still occur in Utah. However, it has been absent from mainstream Mormonism for over 130 years and remains illegal under Utah law.

Polyandry Among Mormon Fundamentalist Groups

While the mainstream Mormon church banned polygamy long ago, some small breakaway fundamentalist groups still practice plural marriage. Most of these groups are located in rural areas of Utah.

The largest fundamentalist church is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), based primarily in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. It is estimated to have about 10,000 members living mostly in closed, isolated communities.

The Apostolic United Brethren, centered in Bluffdale, Utah, is another fundamentalist group with an estimated 7,500 members. Other smaller fundamentalist groups include The Righteous Branch and the Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly.

Among these fundamentalist groups, both polygyny and polyandry still occur very rarely. Most plural marriages are polygynous with one husband having multiple wives. Polyandry with one wife having multiple husbands is extremely uncommon. Overall, it is estimated that about 30,000 people are currently living in fundamentalist polygamous households in Utah.

However, polyandry faces even more stigma than polygyny in these groups. Many fundamentalist men find the idea of sharing a wife to be distasteful or threatening. Women also often oppose bringing additional husbands into the family. Therefore polyandry is strongly discouraged among most fundamentalist Mormon groups.

Utah’s Response to Fundamentalist Polygamy

Utah authorities mostly take a hands-off approach when it comes to polygamy among consenting adult fundamentalists. Police rarely raid polygamist communities unless there are allegations of abuse, child sex trafficking, welfare fraud, or other crimes.

Occasional controversies flare up, often related to notorious figures such as Warren Jeffs, the former leader of the FLDS church who was convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting two young girls. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in Texas.

But otherwise, Utah has a kind of unspoken agreement to not interfere too strongly with fundamentalist polygamy marriages as long as they remain isolated, private, and strictly adult relationships.

However, polyandry is even more strongly disapproved and sidelined due to its rarity and being seen as disruptive to traditional family structures. Any polyandrous relationships in fundamentalist communities almost always occur without the acknowledgement or consent of the authorities or surrounding local communities in Utah.

Public Perception of Polyandry in Utah

Polyandry carries an extremely negative public perception in Utah, even more so than traditional polygyny.

Many Utah residents consider fundamentalist polygyny to be a relic of the past that feels foreign to modern life. However, the concept of a man with multiple wives resonates with Biblical patriarchs like Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon who were revered figures with many wives. So polygyny evokes some feelings of historical and scriptural continuity.

In contrast, polyandry has no such respectable Biblical heritage. The idea of a woman shared between multiple husbands provokes visceral reactions against female promiscuity and sexual deviancy. It is seen as threat to male authority and an inversion of proper marital roles. This makes polyandrous relationships far more uncomfortable for Utah residents, both Mormon and non-Mormon, to contemplate.

For most in Utah today, polyandry is something found only in long-ago history or obscure cults. It is not seen as a valid practice for modern society. Any polyandrous relationships are expected to remain hidden to avoid scrutiny and condemnation.


In summary, polyandry currently remains illegal in Utah. It has no sanction in the mainstream Mormon church and very rare instances in fundamentalist groups. While authorities largely tolerate private adult polygyny among fundamentalist sects, polyandry receives even stronger social, religious, and legal disapproval in Utah. The lingering stigma and prohibition against polyandrous marriage seem unlikely to change anytime soon. While polygyny may occasionally resurface in sparsely populated rural enclaves, plural marriage for a woman with multiple husbands violates deeply ingrained values against sexual immorality and gender norms. For now and the foreseeable future, a woman having multiple husbands remains forbidden and unrecognized in Utah.

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