Understanding the Distinctions: Bigamy vs. Polygamy

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Marriage practices can vary significantly across different cultures and societies. In this article, we will delve into the intriguing topic of bigamy versus polygamy, shedding light on their differences and exploring the various forms of polygamy. While both bigamy and polygamy involve multiple spouses and marriages, there are distinct characteristics that set them apart.


Bigamy refers to a marriage arrangement where an individual is legally married to one person but enters into another marriage ceremony with someone else. It can be consensual and intentional, where all parties involved are aware of the multiple marriages and give their consent. Conversely, bigamy can also be non-consensual, with spouses being unaware of each other. Furthermore, unintentional bigamy may occur as a result of an attempted divorce that was not legally finalized. It is important to note that bigamy is considered illegal across all parts of the United States.


Polygamy, on the other hand, is a broader term that encompasses a general union or marriage involving three or more people. While many associate polygamy with a scenario involving multiple wives and one man, it is not strictly limited to this configuration. Polygamy can involve any gender, allowing for marriages with multiple partners.

Different Forms of Polygamy:

1. Group Marriage:

Group marriage is a type of polygamy where all parties involved enter into a marriage-like agreement. The ratio of males to females is not predetermined and is determined by the individuals participating in the arrangement.

2. Polyandry:

Polyandry involves a marriage arrangement where one woman is married to multiple men. There are two subtypes of polyandry:

   a) Non-Fraternal Spouses: The woman marries unrelated husbands.

   b) Fraternal Spouses: A woman is married to a pair of sibling brothers.

3. Polygyny:

Polygyny occurs when one man is married to multiple women. There are two types of polygyny:

   a) Nonsororal: The man chooses wives who have no relation to each other.

   b) Sororal: The man marries sisters from the same family.

Key Distinctions:

To distinguish between polygamy and bigamy, it is important to consider the following factors:

– Religious and cultural influences: Polygamy often carries religious or cultural significance, whereas bigamy is not typically associated with these influences.

– Living arrangements: Polygamy may involve multiple households, while bigamy usually operates with spouses unaware of each other.

– Legal classification: Polygamy may be legal in certain countries where it is recognized, while bigamy is universally considered illegal.

– Awareness of multiple spouses: In bigamy, one spouse is aware of another or others, whereas polygamy assumes the knowledge and consent of all parties involved.

Legal Status:

It is worth mentioning that the legal status of polygamy and bigamy can vary over time and across jurisdictions. For instance, in February 2020, polygamy was decriminalized in Utah, but later, the bigamy law was reinstated. Currently, Utah views polygamy as an “infraction,” similar to a speeding ticket.


In conclusion, bigamy and polygamy share commonalities in involving multiple spouses and marriages. However, they differ in terms of consent, awareness among spouses, legal implications, and cultural contexts. It is crucial to understand these distinctions to appreciate the complexity of marriage practices worldwide and their evolving legal landscapes.

#Polygyny #Marriage #Equity #Spouses


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