Polygamy in Australia

Polygamy is not permitted in Australia. Polygamous marriages may not be performed in Australia,[1] [2] and a person who marries another person, knowing that the previous marriage is still subsisting, commits an offence of bigamy under section 94 of the Marriage Act 1961, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.[3] Whether or not either or both partners were aware of the previous subsisting marriage, the second marriage is void.[4]

Polygamous marriages entered into in jurisdictions that legally recognise and perform such unions may be legally valid in Australia for some purposes.[5][6] While the extent of benefits granted to a foreign polygamous marriage are unclear, benefits such as welfare are legally granted to each spouse and their children.[7] In addition, the polygamous marriage is recognised for the purpose of a spouse having access to the Family Court for divorce, and involving property settlement and children issues.[8]


In 2008, a number of Islamic leaders, particularly Imams advocated the legalisation of polygamous marriages in Australia,[9][10][11] which stirred controversial and emotional debate.[12][13] Proponents of polygamy have claimed that legalisation would "protect the rights of women,"[14] while opponents have claimed that it would "endanger the Australian way of life."[15] In response to the intensifying debate, Australia's former Attorney General Robert McClelland remarked that "There is absolutely no way that the government will be recognising polygamist relationships. They are unlawful and they will remain as such. Under Australian law, marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Polygamous marriage necessarily offends this definition."[16]

In 2009 there was further support expressed for polygamy within the Australian Muslim community.[17]


In 2011, a small community of polyamorists in Australia were working towards the removal of prejudice against multiple-partner relationships and ultimately to the legalisation of polyamorous marriage.[18][19]

In 2012 polyamorists again lobbied for marriage recognition with the Australian "poly community" claimed to be, "diverse, and thriving",[20] however the Australian Greens have said that equal rights should involve only two consenting adults.[21] The Greens were accused of "narrowmindedness, denial of equality, fear of sexual difference and political expediency" and of being "hypocrites" because the logic they use to argue for marriage equality should extend to people who have multiple partners.[20][22]

In the lead-up to the 2012 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras LGBTI polyamorists were offended when their application to enter a float was questioned. A concern for Mardi Gras organisers was reconciling any endorsement of polyamorous relationships, while at the same time promoting marriage equality for couples. Polyamorists felt excluded particularly as the Mardi Gras theme was "universal and infinite love".[23] The issue was resolved by having restrictions placed on the polyamory group's signage within the parade.[24] A polyamory float was entered in the 2012 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras based on the theme "Queer Polyamory".[25]

Former High Court Judge, the Hon. Michael Kirby said in 2012, "I have known homosexual people in a relationship of three . . . . Human relationships are complicated, but these, I would respectfully suggest, are issues for the future".[26]

Dan Savage developed the term monogamish, being a relationship that’s "mostly monogamous". He lectured in Melbourne in 2013 promoting this concept.[27] Another term, developed by Savage, is throuple, which is used to describe a (polygamous) relationship of three people.[28] The functioning of monogamish relationships is being explored.[29][30] Concern has been raised in regards to 'monogamish' and 'throuple' as both redefine relationships, "primarily about adult desire".[31]

In 2013 polyamory activists were saying, "For too long has Australia denied people the right to marry the ones they care about. We find this abhorrent. We believe that everyone should be allowed to marry their partners, and that the law should never be a barrier to love. And that's why we demand nothing less than the full recognition of polyamorous families."[32][33]

There was a polyamory float in the 2014 Mardi Gras, themed, "Polyamory Sydney ‘Birds of a Feather, love together’ – the infinite love Nest".[34]

In 2014 and 2015 further recognition for, and acceptance of, polygamy was sought.[35][36][37][38][39]

See also


  1. Rights charter is from 2009
  2. MARRIAGE ACT 1961 (Australia) s94(1).
  3. Sect 23(1)(a) of the Marriage Act 1961
  4. MARRIAGE ACT 1961(Australia) s23B(1)a.
  5. Probing polygamy
  6. Islamic Polygamy, Western Monogamy
  7. Probing polygamy
  8. Sect 6 of the Family Law Act 1975
  9. Muslim Leaders Call for Australia to Recognize Polygamy
  10. Australia: Polygamy should be legal, says sheikh
  11. Legalise polygamous unions: Muslim leaders
  12. Australia in Muslim Polygamy Debate
  13. Polygamous marriages, in Australia?
  14. Australia: Polygamous Marriages, Multiple Reactions
  15. Polygamy - the right to put down women
  16. No recognition for polygamous marriage
  17. Trad, Keysar (2 October 2009). "Why should polygamy be a crime?". The Age. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  18. Higgins, Ean (10 December 2011). "Three in marriage bed more of a good thing". The Australian. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  19. Patricia Karvelas (7 February 2011). "Same-sex first, then polygamy". The Australian. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
  20. 1 2 Tory Shepherd (29 May 2012). "Confessions of a polygamist: A man's love for two sisters". news.com. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  21. "Greens fall foul over menage a trois ban". 24 May 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  22. Higgins, Ean (17 July 2012). "Greens 'elitist' on wedlock". The Australian. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  23. Akersten, Matt (4 February 2012). "Polyamorists defend parade spot". Same Same. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  24. Noonan, Andie (12 February 2012). "Poly conflict resolved". Star Observer. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  25. "Every float, every group– Mardi Gras Parade2012 revealed". Same Same. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  26. "Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee". Australian Parliament House. 3 May 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  27. "The Pop Up Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Dan Savage: Savage Advice". Wheeller Center. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  28. "Kitten and her two wives are expecting their first baby this year". Mamamia. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  29. Jackson, Gabrielle (25 October 2013). "Monogamy monogamish". Hoopla. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  30. Akersten, Matt (17 June 2013). "Are you monogamish". SameSame. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  31. Anderson, Ryan T. "Get ready for the throuples.". National Review. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  32. Cook, Michael (5 March 2013). "Taking same-sex marriage step by step". Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  33. "Polyamory Action Lobby". Hansard: Australian Parliament House. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  34. "Mardi Gras Parade 2014 – All the floats you'll see". Same Same. 27 February 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  35. "How common is polygamy in Australia? And how does it work?". SBS. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  36. Feeney, Katherine (11 June 2015). "Does a polyamorous lifestyle reward followers with a better life?". WA Today. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  37. Baird, Julia (30 June 2015). "The Drum talks with US sex educator Janet Hardy". ABC News. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  38. Wra, Tyson (25 September 2015). "Free love in the 21st century: Why polyamory is taking off". News Ltd. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  39. Perkins, Miki (8 September 2015). "Boomers with benefits: a free love revolution with no rings attached". The Age. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
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