In the history of mankind, polygamy has not only been in existence but also widely practiced in many societies, though the trend has drastically reduced, with many people more so from the West, castigating it. Divergent opinions have also been put across, in support or against the practice. Religion has been cited as a reason for or against polygamy practice. Biblically (Old Testament) as in Koran, the practice was carried out by those who were perceived to be close to God. Such include King Solomon, his father David and Jacob. However, the practice faced a lot of opposition from the apostles, more Saint Paul. However, the Islamic religion supports the practice, as one can have up to four wives. Summarily, religion, especially Islam, supports polygamy as long as the partners remain faithful and
Polygamy is practiced because of the possibility of pooling resources and saving for investment. If all the partners have adequate and stable sources of income and they live together, it is possible that the family will share some costs, more so the fixed ones. In this way, the polygamous family will be able to have some money left that can put into developmental projects. It is in this ground that polygamy was widely practiced among the agrarian's societies. According to Schiedel (2009), during the agrarian times, and the case still applies in agricultural based t rural economies in some societies, "polygamy was particularly common [ in such societies] in which women’s labor generated most resources whereas it occurred less frequently in more advanced agrarian, societies(p.3). Similar findings have also been expressed by Aluko and Aransiola (2003), who argue that those who support polygamy cites the advantage of such marriage as the possibility to have "women [who] serve as a source of labor and help for men" (p.181).
The practice of polygamy, though controversial in the developed world, is supported by those who subscribe to liberalism principles. Liberalism requires that certain natural rights which a human being is entitled to should not only be protected by guaranteed by all.
A society however cannot be termed as liberal if its progress is characterized by discriminations against the minorities, if there is social stratification, and cultural and religious intolerance. With this respect, polygamy has been presented as a matter of personal decision and choice rather than a public policy issue that warrants state intervention. The proponents of polygamy argue that the very strong terms and calls for tolerance that have been made in support of such sexually oriented but controversial unions/ relationship as lesbianism, gay and bi-sexual relations should be made in support of those who have voluntarily and consciously decided to be in polygamous relationships.
Polygamy has also been cited as a solution to the disproportionate male-female ratio in the modern world. Currently, the number of females outnumbers that of men. Some women therefore end up not finding men to marry them. To get the emotional and psychological satisfaction and support, these women would turn to the married or relatively young men and have them as sexual partners. Such practices however promote promiscuity, danger of contracting and spreading the HIV and other STD and possible family break ups.
For example, the statistical gap between the women and male population size is about 8 million. Also, the country has over 20 million males who are gays. If the whole American society were to go the monogamy way, then this huge number of women would remain unmarried without any partner, casual or permanent. For those who cannot live celibate lives, it would be very difficult for them to get male companionship, thus add to emotional and psychological distress that comes with imbalances in male-female ratio. Negatively, the women may turn to prostitution, while the men whom they sleep with will be going against the marriage morals, which the supporters of monogamous marriage advocate for. The practice of female foeticide in India and China has also been counterproductive, in attempts to control population growth and deal with the sex imbalance. Currently, the men outnumber women due to sex preference and massive abortion of female fetus. This further raises a moral question on the dignity of human life and right to life.
Additionally, the female seem to have longer lifespan than the male. As such, polygamy would help the women to be in a relationship where their emotional support would be provided, even upon the death of their husbands. Significantly, Chapman (2008) concurs with this school of thought, basing his argument on the Muslim World, stating that "Qur’an permits polygamy in order to show compassion to widows and orphans (p.17).
Some people however, have been against polygamy, terming strange, evil, degrading and inhuman act which also advances male dominion. Polygamy, in this case, is viewed as a practice that negates human rights. It is contravenes the spirit of equality and human rights that should exist in marriage (Wichelen, 2009).
The likelihood of frequents fights, quarrels and disagreements increases with polygamous marriage. There is a high chance that the wives may feel discriminated against by the husband who is deemed to favor one wife. The danger of such a situation can be explained in terms of social strife and family disagreements that may lead to divorce and suffering of children.
The age of high prevalent of sexually transmitted diseases imply that polygamy should be stoppped. Since STDs escalate more with reckless sexual behaviors such as having multiple partners, the possibility of contracting the incurable HIV/Aids is very high. In effect, polygamy perpetuates prevalenvce of STDs, leading to health burdens on the economy and loss of human capital. Impliedly, with specific reference to the cost of health care and deaths , and basing the argument on the correlation between multiple sexual partners and STDs, polygamy practice is less, if not beneficial to man and the society.
Marriage provides a safe avenue for the wife and the husband to be guiders and companions who love each other, support one another and appreciate each other. Through such recognition, it is expected that a mutual understanding would exist between the partners and eventual respect. As such, none would feel safer if the union breaks, forcing them to value dialogue and forgiveness incase of disagreement. However, in polygamy, incase of a quarrel or disagreement, the husband may ignore the wife with whom he has a problem, but continue to get companionship, sexual intercourse and other psychological/ emotional and physical needs from the other wife or wives as well as children. Polygamy thus forces women to be unduly submissive irrespective of how much they try to hang onto non functional and stressful marriage. As such, it may render a woman voiceless in marriage; get the value of marriage on the terms of the man.
Polygamy contributes to socio-economic burdens in an economy both at macro and micro-economic levels. In certain societies where the practice is rampant, it is expected that the man provides for all the women he marries including their children. This cultural value is more entrenched in Islamic religion and African traditional beliefs. The household income, especially for poor families, will be spent on basic needs as opposed to investments and enhanced of living standards. The situation gets compounded when the wives compete for attention, affection, number of children and the available resources.
Research shows that in developing world, polygamy leads to low quality of life as children in such marriages are "consistently …at a higher risk of death compared to those in monogamous families" (Gyimah, 2005, p.20). The pressure put on the household budget may be result into poor living conditions and psychological stress/ pressure on the man who strives to fulfill his obligations. This may even cause premature deaths. Macro-economically, polygamy may leads to high population growth rate, condition which burdens the economy of a country, demands for more welfare and health care programs, and imbalances in the labor market. Indirectly, these social challenges form the basis and foundation for such social strife as street gangs, brain wastage, low living standards and underdevelopment.