In cultures that practice marital monogamy, bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another.[1] Bigamy is a crime in most Western countries, and when it occurs in this context often neither the first nor second spouse is aware of the other.[2][3] In countries that have bigamy laws, consent from a prior spouse makes no difference to the legality of the second marriage, which is usually considered void.

Elkanah and his two wives
Elkanah and his two wives

History of anti-bigamy laws

Even before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Diocletian and Maximian passed strict anti-polygamy laws in 285 AD that mandated monogamy as the only form of legal marital relationship, as had traditionally been the case in classical Greece and Rome. In 393, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I issued an imperial edict to extend the ban on polygamy to Jewish communities. In 1000, Rabbi Gershom ben Judah ruled polygamy inadmissible within Ashkenazi Jewish communities living in a Christian environment.

In ancient China, bigamy was a punishable offence; however, concubines and mistresses were tolerated as long as they were not acquired through an official marriage. A man, at any given time, could only be married to one woman, and vice versa. Issue with the wife enjoyed preference in inheritance and social status.

Legal situation

Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, was exposed as a bigamist in 1540 by his sister, Elisabeth

Most western countries do not recognize polygamous marriages, and consider bigamy a crime. Several countries also prohibit people from living a polygamous lifestyle. This is the case in some states of the United States where the criminalization of a polygamous lifestyle originated as anti-Mormon laws, although they are rarely enforced.[4]

In diplomatic law, consular spouses from polygamous countries are sometimes exempt from a general prohibition on polygamy in host countries. In some such countries, only one spouse of a polygamous diplomat may be accredited, however.[5]

By country

  • Australia: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.[6]
  • Belgium: Illegal. 5–10 years' imprisonment.[7]
  • Brazil: Illegal. 2–6 years' imprisonment.[8]
  • Canada: Illegal under the Criminal Code, sect 290.[9]
  • China: Illegal. Up to 2 years' imprisonment, and up to 3 years for bigamy with soldiers (but tolerated for some minorities, such as Tibetans, in some rural areas in the south-west).
  • Colombia Illegal with exceptions (such as religion). Although bigamy no longer exists as a lone figure in the Colombian judicial code marrying someone new without dissolving an earlier marriage may yield to other felonies such as civil status forgery or suppression of information.[10]
  • Egypt: Legal if first wife consents
  • Eritrea: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • All the 27 countries of the European Union (see special note for the United Kingdom): Illegal.
  • Iceland: Illegal according to the Icelandic Act on Marriage No. 31/1993, Art. 11.[11]
  • Germany: Illegal. Punishable.
  • Ghana: Illegal. Up to six months' imprisonment.
  • Hong Kong: Illegal. Up to 7 years' imprisonment.[12]
  • Republic of Ireland: Bigamy is a statutory offence. It is committed by a person who, being married to another person, goes through a ceremony capable of producing a valid marriage with a third person. The offence is created by section 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.[13] This section replaces section 26 of the Act 10 Geo. 4 c. 34 for the Republic of Ireland.[14]
  • India: Legal only for Muslims but very rarely practiced. Up to ten years of imprisonment for others except in the state of Goa for Hindus due to its own civil code.
  • Indonesia: Depending on the specific tribe in question, bigamy can be legal or illegal.
  • Iran: Legal with consent of first wife. Rarely practiced.
  • Israel: Illegal for members of each confessional community. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.[15]
  • Italy: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • Libya: Legal with conditions.
  • Malaysia: Illegal for non-Muslims under federal jurisdiction. Under section 494 of Chapter XX of the Penal Code, non-Muslim offenders found guilty of bigamy or polygamy shall be punished up to 7 years of imprisonment. Bigamy or polygamy is legal only for Muslims with restrictions under state jurisdiction, rarely practiced.[16]
  • Maldives: Permitted for anyone.
  • Malta: Illegal under Marriage Act of 1975, section 6.
  • Netherlands: Illegal. Up to 6 years' imprisonment. If the new partner is aware of the bigamy they can be imprisoned for a maximum of 4 years.
  • New Zealand: Illegal.[17] Up to 7 years' imprisonment, or up to 2 years' imprisonment if the judge is satisfied the second spouse was aware their marriage would be void.
  • Morocco: Permitted for Muslims, restrictions apply.
  • Pakistan: Polygamy in Pakistan is permitted with some restrictions.
  • Philippines: Legal for Muslims. Others face 6–12 years' imprisonment and legal dissolution of marriage.
  • Romania: Illegal under Romanian Penal Code, art 376[18] and Civil Code of Romania, art 273.[19]
  • Saudi Arabia: Bigamy or polygamy is legal.
  • South Africa: Legal under the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 1998 for customary marriages. Under civil law marriages (regulated by the Marriage Act), any marriage in addition to an already existing one is invalid (but not criminalized).
  • Somalia: Polygamy is legal at marriage courts; long-standing tradition.
  • Taiwan: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • Thailand: Prior to October 1, 1935, polygamy in Thailand could be freely practiced and recognised under civil law. Since its abolition, it is still practiced and widely accepted in Thailand, though no longer recognised, as the law states "A man or a woman cannot marry each other while one of them has a spouse."
  • Tunisia: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • Turkey: Illegal. Up to 5 years' imprisonment.
  • United Kingdom: Illegal, although marriages performed abroad may be recognised for some legal purposes (see Polygamy in the United Kingdom).
On indictment, up to 7 years' imprisonment[20] or on summary conviction up to 6 months' imprisonment, or to a fine of a prescribed sum, or to both.[21]


  1. ^ "Definition of BIGAMY". Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  2. ^ George Monger (2004). Marriage customs of the world: from henna to honeymoons. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. p. 31. ISBN 1-57607-987-2. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  3. ^ "Sex Offenses: Consensual - Bigamy". Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. Archived from the original on 2009-10-03. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  4. ^ Turley, Jonathan (3 October 2004). "Polygamy laws expose our own hypocrisy". USA Today. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  5. ^ Shaw, Malcolm Nathan (2003). International law (5th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 684. ISBN 0-521-82473-7.
  6. ^ Marriage Act 1961, sect 94.
  7. ^ "strafwetboek" article 391
  8. ^ Penal code of Brazil, Art. 235
  9. ^ "CBC News in Depth: Polygamy". 2008-04-25. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  10. ^ Redactora, Myriam Amparo Ramírez (24 February 2001). "La Bigamia". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 5 October 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  11. ^ "Icelandic Act on Marriage No. 31/1993". Icelandic Ministry of Justice. 2008-01-09. Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2009-01-11.
  12. ^ "Offences Against The Person Ordinance Cap 212 s 45 Bigamy". Retrieved 2017-01-20.
  13. ^ This list of repeals and amendments in the Republic of Ireland from the Irish Statute Book Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine confirms that it remains in force.
  14. ^ James Edward Davis. The Criminal Law Consolidation Statutes of the 24 & 25 of Victoria, Chapters 94 to 100: Edited with Notes, Critical and Explanatory. Butterworths. 1861. Pages 276 and 277.
  15. ^ Penal Law Amendment (Bigamy) Law, 5719 (1959), which applies to members of each confessional community, including the Jewish and Muslim. The English Law of Bigamy in a Multi-Confessional Society: The Israel Experience by P Shifman.
  16. ^ "Malaysia". Islamic Family Law. Emory Law School. Archived from the original on 2012-07-28. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  17. ^ Crimes Act 1961, section 205.
  18. ^ "Art. 376 Noul Cod Penal Bigamia Infracţiuni contra familiei". Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Art. 273 Noul cod civil Bigamia Condiţiile de fond pentru încheierea căsătoriei Încheierea căsătoriei". Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  20. ^ The Offences against the Person Act 1861 (24 & 25 Vict. c.100), section 57; the Criminal Justice Act 1948 (11 & 12 Geo.6 c.58), section 1(1)
  21. ^ The Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (c.43), section 32(1) Archived 2012-01-11 at the Wayback Machine
Abraham H. Cannon

Abraham Hoagland Cannon (also reported as Abram H. Cannon) (March 12, 1859 – July 19, 1896) was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).

Angus M. Cannon

Angus Munn Cannon (May 17, 1834 – June 7, 1915) was an early Latter Day Saint leader and Mormon pioneer.

Anne Vavasour

Anne Vavasour (c. 1560 – c. 1650) was a Maid of Honour (1580–81) to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and the mistress of two aristocratic men. Her first lover was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, by whom she had an illegitimate son – Edward. For that offence, both she and the earl were sent to the Tower of London by the orders of the Queen. She later became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, by whom she had another illegitimate son.

By 1590, she had married a sea captain by the name of John Finch. She later married John Richardson, while her first husband was still alive; and as a consequence, she was brought up before the High Commission on a charge of bigamy, for which she had to pay a fine of £2000; however, she was spared having to perform a public penance.

She was the inspiration, protagonist, and possibly the actual author, of the poem, Anne Vavasour's Echo, though her lover the Earl of Oxford is more commonly identified as its author.

Bigamy (canon law)

This article is about bigamy in canon law. For information regarding bigamy in secular law, see Bigamy.

Bigamy, according to the strict meaning, signifies the marrying of a second wife after the death of the first, in contradistinction to polygamy, which is having two simultaneous wives. The present usage in criminal law of applying the term bigamy to that which is more strictly called polygamy is, according to Blackstone a corruption of the true meaning of bigamy. Canonically viewed, bigamy denotes (a) the condition of a man married to two real or interpretative wives in succession, and as a consequence (b) his unfitness to receive, or exercise after reception, tonsure, minor and sacred orders. This unfitness gives rise to an irregularity which is an impediment "impediment" and "not diriment", hence orders conferred in violation of it are valid but illicit. This irregularity is not a punishment, medicinal nor punitive, as there is no sin nor fault of any kind in a man marrying a second wife after the death of his first, or a third after the death of his second; it is a bar against his receiving or exercising any ecclesiastical order or dignity.

Bigamy (film)

Bigamy (German: Bigamie) is a 1927 German silent drama film directed by Jaap Speyer and starring Heinrich George, Maria Jacobini and Anita Dorris.

Christine of Saxony

Christine of Saxony (25 December 1505 – 15 April 1549) was a German noble, landgravine of Hesse. She was the regent of Hesse in 1547-1549.

She was the daughter of George the Bearded, Duke of Saxony and Barbara Jagiellon. On 11 December 1523 in Kassel, she married Landgrave Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse. The marriage was arranged to forge an alliance between Hesse and Saxony and was unhappy; Philip claimed to be disgusted by her and only shared her bed by duty. They had ten children.

Whilst married to Christine, Philip practised bigamy and had another nine children with his other (morganatic) wife, Margarethe von der Saale; in 1540, Christine gave her consent to her husband's bigamy with his lover because of her view upon him as her sovereign. Margarethe von der Saale, however, was never seen at court. During Philip's absence and captivity in 1547-49, Christine was regent jointly with her oldest son.

Elizabeth Pierrepont, Duchess of Kingston-upon-Hull

Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston (8 March 1721 – 26 August 1788), sometimes called Countess of Bristol, was an English noble and courtier, known by her contemporaries for her adventurous life style. She was the daughter of Colonel Thomas Chudleigh (died 1726), and was appointed maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales, in 1743, probably through the good offices of her friend, William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath. She was found guilty of bigamy at a trial by her peers at Westminster Hall that attracted 4,000 spectators.

George Reynolds (Mormon)

George Reynolds (January 1, 1842 – August 9, 1909) was a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), a longtime secretary to the First Presidency of the LDS Church, and a party to the 1878 United States Supreme Court case Reynolds v. United States, the first freedom of religion case to issue from that court.

H. D. Kumaraswamy

Hardanahalli Deve Gowda Kumaraswamy (born 16 December 1959) is an Indian politician and the current Chief Minister of the State of Karnataka. He is a former president of the Karnataka State Janata Dal (Secular) and son of former Prime Minister of India H. D. Deve Gowda. During his 2006 chief ministerial period Karnataka state recorded all-time high GDP growth and he was called people's CM.

Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act

The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (37th United States Congress, Sess. 2., ch. 126, 12 Stat. 501) was a federal enactment of the United States Congress that was signed into law on July 8, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. Sponsored by Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, the act banned bigamy in federal territories such as Utah and limited church and non-profit ownership in any territory of the United States to $50,000.The act targeted the Mormon practice of plural marriage and the property dominance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Utah Territory. The measure had no funds allocated for enforcement, and Lincoln chose not to enforce this law; instead Lincoln gave Brigham Young tacit permission to ignore the Morrill Act in exchange for not becoming involved with the Civil War. General Patrick Edward Connor, commanding officer of the federal forces garrisoned at Fort Douglas, Utah beginning in 1862, was explicitly instructed not to confront the Mormons over this or any other issue.The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was amended in 1882 by the Edmunds Act, and then again in 1887 by the Edmunds–Tucker Act.

Enforcement of these acts started in July 1887. The issue went to the Supreme Court in the case Late Corp. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States that upheld the Edmunds–Tucker Act on May 19, 1890. Among other things, the act disincorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Within five months, the LDS Church officially discontinued the practice of plural marriage with the 1890 Manifesto. On October 25, 1893, a congressional resolution authorized the release of assets seized from the LDS Church because, "said church has discontinued the practice of polygamy and no longer encourages or gives countenance to any manner of practices in violation of law, or contrary to good morals or public policy."

Operation Bigamy

Operation Bigamy a.k.a. Operation Snowdrop was a raid during the Second World War by the Special Air Service in September 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel David Stirling and supported by the Long Range Desert Group. The plan was to destroy the harbour and storage facilities at Benghazi and raid the airfield at Benina in Libya in coordination with the RAF. The raid was part of a deception plan for Operation Agreement, the much larger raid on Tobruk.

The plan involved a "gruelling journey around the southern edge of the Great Sand Sea" but ended in failure. The raiding force was discovered at a road block by an Italian reconnaissance unit and Stirling decided to withdraw to Kufra. During the withdrawal, the Luftwaffe picked off nearly 70 of the vehicles on the barren terrain. The survivors were reformed as the 1st Special Air Service regiment.The frequently used, albeit inaccurate, name Operation Snowdrop stems from early editions of William Boyd Kennedy Shaws' book Long Range Desert Group. At the time, War Office security policy would not permit Shaw to use real operational code names.

In September 1967 Len Deighton wrote an article in the Sunday Times Magazine about Operation Snowdrop. The following year Stirling was awarded "substantial damages" in a libel action about the article. The passage complained of states "Stirling himself had insisted upon talking about the raid at two social gatherings at the British Embassy in Cairo although warned not to do so". Stirling made the point that Winston Churchill had been at both gatherings and the issue was raised in a private discussion with the Prime Minister.

Operation Nicety

Operation Nicety was an operation in September 1942 during the Second World War by the Sudan Defence Force. It was designed to support the raiding forces taking part in Operation Agreement, Operation Caravan and Operation Bigamy. The objective of the operation was the seizure of the Jalo oasis in the Libyan desert to support the withdrawal of the forces involved in the other operations. The operation was a failure: the Germans had discovered the plans for all four operations on the body of a dead officer taking part in Operation Agreement. Forewarned, the Italian garrison at Jalo had been warned and reinforced which easily repelled the attack on the night 15–16 September.

Poland Act

The Poland Act (18 Stat. 253) of 1874 was an act of the United States Congress which sought to facilitate prosecutions under the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act by eliminating the control members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) exerted over the justice system of Utah Territory. Sponsored by Senator Luke P. Poland of Vermont, the Act redefined the jurisdiction of Utah courts by giving the United States district courts exclusive jurisdiction in Utah Territory over all civil and criminal cases. The Act also eliminated the territorial marshal and attorney, giving their duties to a U.S. Marshal and a U.S. Attorney. The Act also altered petit and grand jury empaneling rules to keep polygamists off juries. By removing Latter-day Saints from positions of authority in the Utah justice system, the Act was intended to allow for successful prosecutions of Mormon polygamists.


Polygamy (from Late Greek πολυγαμία, polygamía, "state of marriage to many spouses") is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

In contrast, monogamy is marriage consisting of only two parties. Like "monogamy", the term "polygamy" is often used in a de facto sense, applied regardless of whether the state recognizes the relationship. In sociobiology and zoology, researchers use polygamy in a broad sense to mean any form of multiple mating.

Worldwide, different societies variously encourage, accept or outlaw polygamy. Of societies which allow or tolerate polygamy, in the vast majority of cases the form accepted is polygyny. According to the Ethnographic Atlas (1998), of 1,231 societies noted, 588 had frequent polygyny, 453 had occasional polygyny, 186 were monogamous and 4 had polyandry; although more recent research suggests polyandry may be more common than previously thought. From a religious point of view, "The bible shows over 36 named men who had more than one wife." In cultures which practice polygamy, its prevalence among that population is often connected to class and socioeconomic status.From a legal point of view, in many countries, although marriage is legally monogamous (a person can only have one spouse, and bigamy is illegal), adultery is not illegal, leading to a situation of de facto polygamy being allowed, although without legal recognition for non-official "spouses".

According to scientific studies, the human mating system is considered to be primarily monogamous, with cultural practice of polygamy to be in the minority, based on both surveys of world populations, and on characteristics of human reproductive physiology.

Polygamy in Eritrea

Since the introduction of the current Marriage Law introduced by the EPLF in 1977, polygamy has been illegal in Eritrea. The 2015 Penal Code of the State of Eritrea states that participating in a second marriage will annul the first. If the first marriage is not annulled, one is guilty of bigamy, which is punishable with "a definite term of imprisonment of not less than 6 months and not more than 12 months, or a fine of 20,001 – 50,000 Nakfas."

Polygamy in the United Kingdom

Polygamous marriages may not be performed in the United Kingdom, and if a polygamous marriage is performed, the already-married person may be guilty of the crime of bigamy under the s.11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Reynolds v. United States

Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878), was a Supreme Court of the United States case that held that religious duty was not a defense to a criminal indictment. Reynolds was the first Supreme Court opinion to address the First Amendment's protection of religious liberties, impartial juries and the Confrontation Clauses of the Sixth Amendment.

George Reynolds was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), charged with bigamy under the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act after marrying Amelia Jane Schofield while still married to Mary Ann Tuddenham in Utah Territory. He was secretary to Brigham Young and presented himself as a test of the federal government's attempt to outlaw polygamy. An earlier conviction was overturned on technical grounds.

Tom Green (polygamist)

Thomas Arthur "Tom" Green (born 1948) is a Mormon fundamentalist in Utah who is a practitioner of plural marriage. After a high-profile trial, Green was convicted by the state of Utah on May 18, 2001 of four counts of bigamy and one count of failure to pay child support. This decision was upheld by the Utah State Supreme Court in 2004. He was also convicted of child rape, on the basis that one of his wives had his child at the age of 14, meaning that they had sex when she was only 13 years old. In total he served six years in prison and was released in 2007.

William R. Smith (Mormon)

William Reed Smith (11 August 1826 – 15 January 1894) was a Utah territorial politician and a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in Utah

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