Polygamy implicates the custom or act of having multiple wives or husbands at a given moment in time. Bigamy may be a criminal offense in some countries around the world. Polygamy may be a religious or cultural practice that is prescribed by the norms of certain communities.
Polygamy vs Bigamy
The main difference between polygamy and bigamy is that polygamy is used to connote the act of having multiple spouses at the same time, while bigamy connotes the act of marrying an individual while being legally married to another.
Bigamy is generally used as a legal in a court of law to condemn the practice of entering into a second marriage contract without securing legal severance from the first one.
Comparison Table Between Polygamy and Bigamy
|Parameters of Comparison||Polygamy||Bigamy|
|Definition||Polygamy is the custom or practice of having multiple spouses at the same time.||Bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage contract for the second time without securing legal severance from the first spouse.|
|Legality||Polygamy is considered legal in some communities.||Bigamy is considered illegal in most countries.|
|Etymology||‘Poly’ means ‘more than one’. Thus, polygamy stands for the act of having multiple marital partners.||‘Bi’ means ‘two’. Bigamy connotes the practice of having two marital partners.|
|Religious Sanctions||Certain religious and cultural sanctions prescribe polygamy.||No such religious sanctions prescribe bigamy.|
|Structure of Households||Singular large households are common in polygamous marriages.||Bigamous households are generally separated.|
|Spousal Knowledge||Spouses of a polygamous marriage know about their individual roles and existence.||Spouses in a bigamous marriage are usually unaware of each other’s existence.|
|Sub-categories||Polyandry and polygyny are the two main types of polygamous marriages.||There are no known sub-categories of bigamous marriages.|
|Scope||Polygamy has a wider scope as it included bigamy. All bigamists are polygamists.||Bigamy has a limited scope. All polygamists are not bigamists.|
What is Polygamy?
Polygamy refers to the practice of maintaining multiple spouses at the same time. In the Greek language, ‘poly’ means ‘more than one’, thus, polygamy is a generic term that is used to indicate a marriage with multiple partners. These multiple partners within a polygamous marriage are completely aware of each other’s existence and specific roles.
Although polygamy is illegal in many countries around the world, there are certain religious and cultural prescriptions that sanction the practice of polygamy. Muslims are religiously permitted to practice polygamy. There is usually a single household in a polygamous marriage, where all the partners live together.
Polygamous marriages can be of two types- polyandry and polygyny. When a man is married to more than one woman, the practice is known as polyandry. While if a woman is married to more than one man, the practice is known as polygyny. Polyandry can be further subdivided into the fraternal and non-fraternal categories. Polygyny can be either of the sororal or non-sororal variants.
What is Bigamy?
Bigamy is the practice of marrying an individual when one is still legally married to another individual. It is generally used as a legal term to connote a criminal offense. The word ‘bigamy’ has also originated from the Greek language, where ‘bi’ means two. Thus, bigamy is the practice of entering into a marriage contract for the second time, without legally severing the initial marriage contract with a legally sanctioned divorce.
From a legal standpoint, the second marriage will be considered invalid. In a bigamous martial alliance, the two partners involved usually have no knowledge of each other’s existence. Moreover, two separate households are maintained by a bigamist to continue concealing this alliance.
Although bigamy is allowed in a few nations around the world, it is considered illegal in almost all societies. Moreover, bigamy does not have the same religious and cultural backing as polygamy. It is a term generally invoked in the court of law.
Main Differences Between Polygamy and Bigamy
- The main difference between polygamy and bigamy is that polygamy is the custom or practice of having multiple spouses at the same time, while bigamy is the act of having two marriages without securing a legal severance from the first spouse.
- Polygamy is a legal practice in many countries around the world. It may also be a religious or cultural prescription in certain communities. Bigamy is considered illegal in most countries around the world.
- Usually, bigamy does not have the sanction of religious beliefs as such. However, polygamy is religiously sanctioned for many communities including the Muslim community. In many communities, cultural prescriptions prefer polygamous marriages to monogamous ones.
- The structure of the households under each of these forms of marriages is also quite different. A bigamist usually maintains two separate households. However, the spouses of a polygamist usually live together in the same household.
- The two forms of marital alliances also differ in terms of the degree of knowledge the spouses possess. Generally, in a bigamous marriage, the two spouses are not aware of each other’s existence. Contrarily, in a polygamous marriage, the spouses are aware of each other’s existence.
- Two types of polygamous marriages are possible. Polyandry and polygyny are the two subdivisions of polygamous marriages that can occur. Bigamy does not have such distinctions.
Polygamy and bigamy are both known forms of marriages. They are often evaluated as synonyms, negating the minute differences the two terms embody. However, there are several important dissimilarities between the terms that discount their synonymous usage.
Polygamy is the act of simultaneously maintaining multiple marital partners. The number of spouses in a polygamous marriage is usually more than two. Conversely, bigamy is a term especially used to connote a situation where an individual marries for the second time without legally divorcing the first spouse. The number of spouses in a bigamous marriage is always two.
Bigamy is also a term generally used in a court of law to condemn this practice of maintaining two spouses without legally separating from the spouse of the first marriage. Polygamy is not illegal in many communities around the world.
In the case of some communities, it is the preferred and favorable form of marriage. Religious beliefs and proscriptions sometimes dictate individuals to be polygamous. Contrarily, bigamy does not have such sanctions.
There are also significant dissimilarities between the two in terms of the knowledge of the spouses involved as well as the structure of the households. Although both these forms of marital alliances exist in different parts of the world, they are not as widespread and popular as monogamy.