Understanding Bigamy, Polygamy


  • Bigamy is related to the ceremony. Polygamy is having more than one spouse.
  • Bigamy and Polygamy are both illegal in the United States.
  • Many discover they are bigamists years after a divorce filing, due to mishandled documents.

Bigamy and polygamy are topics that do not come up as frequently as most marriage and divorce related topics, but they are often ones that garner a lot of interest. Many people want to learn more, and others just want to understand the reasons why people enter into these types of relationships. Many simply want to know the difference between the two.

Learning more

Bigamy is the act of going through a marriage ceremony while already married to another person. Polygamy is the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time. In order to experience polygamy, you have to commit the act of bigamy.

The acts of bigamy and the practice of polygamy are illegal in all states and territories in the United States, according to U.S. Legal, and are punishable either by a fine, imprisonment, or both, as according to the law of the individual state and the circumstances of the offense.

Circumstances are dependent on the jurisdiction, and the extent of the criminal behavior. Some jurisdictions have expanded to prohibit bigamous cohabitation, in cases where marriage or the cohabitation may support prosecution. The marriage ceremony element of the crime of bigamy is generally the focus, as opposed to the continuing relationship(s) or the cohabitation itself.

Many people enter marriages without questioning whether their significant other’s divorce was truly finalized, and due to negligence during their previous divorce or intentional spitefulness toward their previous spouse, the act of bigamy is committed.

Public cases

Many public cases involving the act of bigamy have come to light in recent years, due to a variety of reasons. In November, Guns N’Roses guitarist Slash accused his wife, Perla Ferrar Hudson, of bigamy during their divorce proceedings, according to Page Six. When they got married in 2001, she was unaware that she still was married to Carlos Marty in 1993. The paperwork for the divorce was never properly filed.

They finalized the divorce to Marty in 2009 and made it retroactive to 1994, when Slash and Ferrar Hudson went to file dual citizenship paperwork for their son, Cash. A clerical error was blamed for the issue at the time, but with their divorce proceedings still going on from his filing in 2014, he claims he owes her nothing, due to the bigamy perpetrated.

According to People Magazine, actor Ben Vereen spent 36 years married to two women. The Tony-Award winner filed for divorce from his first wife, Andrea, back in 1972, and she filed her own divorce paperwork in 1974. Ben was under the impression that the divorce had been finalized and attributed the confusion to either bad record keeping or attorney oversight. Andrea was under the impression that they had been divorced for a long time and discovered the situation when she went to collect Social Security.

Ben married Nancy Bruner in 1976 and divorced her in 2012, but Andrea’s lawyers claim that Ben would have had to disclose the date of the divorce on a California marriage certificate. She contacted his team who were allegedly unwilling to give anything in the divorce, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One of the more public situations at he moment is from the stars of the TLC show, “Sister Wives.” The Brown family is attempting to overturn Utah’s criminal bigamy statute and have it declared unconstitutional, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The statue makes it a crime if someone “knowing he has a husband or wife knowing the other person has a husband or wife … purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” As a third-degree felony, the statute is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Brown family is pushing for the United States Supreme Court to hear their case, which Utah’s Attorney General office finds unnecessary given a current bill, HB 99, proposed for the 2017 Utah legislature would change the language of the bigamy statute to say “marry and cohabitate” instead of “or.” This would make voluntary cohabitation acceptable, which is the basis of the Brown family’s appeal.

Celebrities are not the only ones experiencing legal ramifications for bigamy. A sheriff’s deputy was charged with one count of felony bigamy in North Carolina, according to The News Herald. William Glenn Cannon was married to Rebecca Carlson in 2014 and discovered that he was having an affair a month into their marriage. After discovering the news, she looked into public records and found out he had been married eight times over 25 years in four states. When confronted with the news, he admitted to being in another current marriage.

Cultural practices

With the age of the internet in full swing and bigamy and polygamy not illegal in every country, many internationally seek husbands and wives online. If you are a practicing Muslim, they even have specific sub-sites dedicated to seeking a husband or wife for religious purposes. All of the sites specify that they do not endorse illegal behavior and to make sure that you check with local laws and regulations in your country, before engaging in their sites.

There are some religions that practice polygamous marriages and lifestyles. One of the more publicized ones are fundamentalist sects of Mormonism, who practice in the state of Utah. Some have even suggested legalizing it entirely on both religious ground and to help with the number of immigrants and refugees who have polygamous families.

For now, the legal issue is present. However, that does not mean that those engaging in bigamy or polygamy have ill-intent in their actions. Some are unaware, and some are practicing their religious and cultural beliefs as they see fit. While we, as a society, may not always understand the practices and customs and we may condemn the illegal nature of some of the practices, we can’t dismiss individuals of a different religion or culture outright.

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