Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Bigamy Definition:

Being married to more than one person at the same time; a criminal offence in most jurisdictions.

Related Terms: Marriage, Polyandry, Polygamy, Adultery

bigamyBeing married to more than one person at the same time. Compare to polygamy which is not limited, by definition, to two husbands or two wives.

This is a criminal offence in most countries.

In Russell on Crimes (1826), the author points out that historically, and mostly based in canon law:

"... bigamy, in its proper signification, is said to mean only being twice married, and not having a plurality of wives at once".

But now it means being married to two persons at the same time (or, to use legalese, concurrently).

In Canada, the Criminal Code (2007) at ¶290 (extract only):

"Every one commits bigamy who in Canada, being married, goes through a form of marriage with another person....

"No person commits bigamy by going through a form of marriage if that person in good faith and on reasonable grounds believes that his spouse is dead; the spouse of that person has been continuously absent from him for seven years immediately preceding the time when he goes through the form of marriage, unless he knew that his spouse was alive at any time during those seven years; that person has been divorced from the bond of the first marriage; or the former marriage has been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction."

In the United States of America, Scoggins v. State 32 Ark 205 (1877) the Supreme Court of Arkansas used these words:

"The crime, in the language of our act, was completed, when any person now married, or who shall be hereafter married, doth take to himself or herself another husband or wife, while his or her former wife or husband is still alive.

"There can be no question but that this is done, when the parties, before the authorized minister, declare that they there take each other for man and wife.

"Marriage, or the relation of husband and wife, is in law complete, when parties, able to contract and willing to contract, actually have contracted to be man and wife in the forms and with the solemnities required by law.

"It is marriage; it is this
contract, which gives to each right or power over the body of the other, and renders a subsequent cohabitation lawful. And it is the abuse of this formal and solemn contract, by entering into it a second time, when a former husband or wife is yet living, which the law forbids, because of its outrage upon public decency, its violation of the public economy, as well as its tendency to cheat one into a surrender of the person under the appearance of right. A man takes a wife lawfully, when the contract is lawfully made. He takes a wife unlawfully, when the contract is unlawfully made, and this unlawful contract the law punishes."

Comedian Bob Hope is credited with this pun On the subject of bigamy:

"Two rites making a wrong."

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