Polygamy vs Bigamy: Difference and Comparison

Polygamy implicates the custom or act of having multiple wives or husbands at a given moment in time. Bigamy may be a criminal offence in some countries around the world.

Polygamy may be a religious or cultural practice prescribed by certain communities’ norms.

Key Takeaways

  1. Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse simultaneously, while bigamy is the crime of marrying a person while still legally marrying someone else.
  2. Polygamy is common in some cultures and religions, while bigamy is illegal and punishable by law in most countries.
  3. Polygamy may or may not involve the consent of all parties involved, while bigamy is always done without the knowledge or consent of the second spouse.

Polygamy vs Bigamy

The difference between polygamy and bigamy is that polygamy is used to connote the act of having multiple spouses at the same time. In contrast, bigamy connotes the act of marrying an individual while being legally married to another.

Polygamy vs Bigamy

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Bigamy is 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

Parameters of ComparisonPolygamyBigamy
DefinitionPolygamy is the custom or practice of having multiple spouses simultaneously.Bigamy is entering into a marriage contract for the second time without securing legal severance from the first spouse.
LegalityPolygamy 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 SanctionsCertain religious and cultural sanctions prescribe polygamy.No such religious sanctions prescribe bigamy.
Structure of HouseholdsSingular large households are common in polygamous marriages.  Bigamous households are separated.
Spousal KnowledgeSpouses of a polygamous marriage know about their roles and existence.Spouses in a bigamous marriage are unaware of each other’s existence.
Sub-categoriesPolyandry and polygyny are the two main types of polygamous marriages.There are no known sub-categories of bigamous marriages.
ScopePolygamy has a wider scope as it includes 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 Greek, ‘poly’ means ‘more than one’; thus, polygamy is a generic term 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 worldwide, certain religious and cultural prescriptions sanction the practice of polygamy.

Muslims are religiously permitted to practice polygamy. There is a single household in a polygamous marriage, where all the partners live together.

Polygamous marriages can be of two types- polyandry and polygyny. The practice is known as polyandry when a man is married to more than one woman.

While if a woman is married to more than one man, the practice is known as polygyny. Polyandry can be further subdivided into fraternal and non-fraternal categories.

Polygyny can be either 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 used as a legal term to connote a criminal offence.

The word ‘bigamy’ has also originated from Greek, where ‘bi’ means two.

Thus, bigamy is 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 do not know 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 worldwide, it is illegal in almost all societies.

Moreover, polygamy does not have the same religious and cultural backing. It is a term invoked in a court of law.


Main Differences Between Polygamy and Bigamy

  1. The main difference between polygamy and bigamy is the custom or practice of having multiple spouses simultaneously. In contrast, bigamy has two marriages without securing a legal severance from the first spouse.
  2. 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.
  3. Usually, bigamy does not have the sanction of religious beliefs as such. However, polygamy is religiously sanctioned in many communities, including the Muslim community. In many communities, cultural prescriptions prefer polygamous marriages to monogamous ones.
  4. The structure of the households under each of these forms of marriage is also quite different. A bigamist maintains two separate households. However, the spouses of a polygamist live together in the same household.
  5. The two forms of marital alliances also differ regarding the degree of knowledge the spouses possess. Generally, in a bigamous marriage, the two spouses are unaware of each other’s existence. Contrarily, in a polygamous marriage, the spouses know each other’s existence.
  6. 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.
Difference Between Polygamy and Bigamy
  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4505897
  2. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/duklr67&section=5
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781119085621.wbefs297

Last Updated : 11 June, 2023

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22 thoughts on “Polygamy vs Bigamy: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The etymological analysis of polygamy and bigamy is fascinating. It provides a deeper understanding of the origins of these terms.

  2. I never realized the distinction between polygamy and bigamy in terms of the structure of households. This article has shed light on that aspect.

    1. Avatar of Danielle Matthews
      Danielle Matthews

      Absolutely, the differences in household structures reveal the intricacies of these marital practices.

  3. The detailed comparison table helps to visualize the disparities between polygamy and bigamy. It’s quite a thought-provoking piece.

  4. The article provides a thorough examination of polygamy and bigamy, shedding light on the legal, cultural, and religious dimensions of these practices.

  5. I find the breakdown of the religious sanctions for polygamy and the legal implications of bigamy to be particularly intriguing. It’s a pertinent analysis.

    1. Yes, the examination of both the religious and legal aspects provides a comprehensive understanding of these practices.

  6. This is a very informative article that highlights the key differences between polygamy and bigamy. It’s interesting to see the legal and religious aspects of both practices.

  7. The distinctions between polygamy and bigamy are clearly elucidated in this article. It’s an intellectually stimulating read.

  8. This article provides a balanced and informative comparison of polygamy and bigamy. It presents a nuanced perspective on these marital practices.

  9. The elaboration on the scope of polygamy and bigamy is quite enlightening. It’s intriguing to see the wider implications of these practices.

  10. I appreciate the detailed comparison between polygamy and bigamy. The explanation of the religious and cultural sanctions is particularly enlightening.

    1. The breakdown of polyandry and polygyny within polygamous marriages is quite eye-opening. It shows the complexity of these arrangements.

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