Legislating Polygyny and Polyandry in Mainstream France

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO, volume 2)


Our question becomes what happens to a strictly monogamous regime when a State promulgates full birth-status rights for non-marital children. Between 1972 and 2009, France did just that. It legislated full birth-status rights for all. This was done in two main phases. In 1972, all children born from simple concubinage (no partner is further married elsewhere) were granted full birth-status rights. If we adhere to our British anthropology definition of marriage as an intimate conjunction providing its progeny with full birth-status rights, this transformed all monogamous concubinal conjunctions into marriages. They could have been comparable to common law marriage in North America. But it was not to be. French modern concubinage, called “free union,” was legislated as comprising no reciprocal rights and no obligation of sexual faithfulness between partners. From then on, an unmarried man could have children with full birth-status rights from two different unmarried women. An unmarried woman could live with two unmarried men and give them children with full birth-status rights. From this materialized a freedom for French citizens to actually practice either polygyny or polyandry. Now, children born from adulterous conjunctions remained deprived of full birth-status rights and, thus, full-fledged polygamy remained impossible for married men or women. However, starting in 2001, after pressures from the European Court of Human Rights, adulterine children were finally given full birth-status rights equal to those of their half-siblings born from their parents’ certified marriages. As a result, married women and men are now given the possibility to practice either true polyandry or polygyny. The next chapter examines what occurred in the rest of Europe and in the Americas.


Civil Code Natural Child Marital Life French Citizen Polygamous Marriage 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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