A plural family is a family in which the parents practice a form of polygamy or polyamory, meaning that the family includes multiple wives and/or husbands or partners. Most commonly, the plural marriage which forms the nucleus of a plural family is polygynous, in which one man is married to multiple wives. Plural families are associated in particular with certain Mormon sects and also with some segments of the Muslim community, although a plural family does not necessarily have to be linked with a specific religion or culture.
In the case of a religious plural family, the plural marriage which forms the foundation of the family is established because the parents believe in plural marriage as an important aspect of their religious faith. Some people believe that their religion commands them to take multiple spouses, or to participate in a plural marriage. In regions of the world where polygamy is illegal or frowned upon, people who practice polygamy as part of their religious culture can experience considerable prejudice, and the head of the family may be imprisoned for polygamy in regions where it is illegal.
In a secular plural family, people simply gather together in a plural marriage because it seems natural, enjoyable, or advantageous to them. This sort of plural marriage is less likely to be specifically polygynous; it may include a multitude of wives and husbands, for example, or it may be polyandrous, with a single female as the head of a household which includes many husbands.
Advocates of the plural family argue that it can be incredibly supportive and productive for all the members of the family, as the parents pitch in together to help each other support the household financially and raise the children. In many plural families, it is common to see a large number of children, and the cooperation of the sisterwives, husbands, or partners in the marriage can keep the house running smoothly. When fully consenting adults come together to build a plural family, supporters feel that this should not be condemned reflexively.
Opponents of plural families argue that it can be demeaning or exploitative, pointing specifically to instances where plural marriages have covered up abuse and coercion of young women. In the case of religious plural marriage, some members of conservative sects may feel pressured into building a plural family, rather than deciding to do so on their own, and this can lead to stress, strife, and ultimate unhappiness. Religious plural marriage can also lead to a shortage of available wives, and a phenomenon sometimes known as the “lost boys,” in which men are expelled from conservative sects which promote the plural family out of concern that there will not be enough wives for everyone.