12 August 2005

You Say "Tomato" and I Say... Well, I Say "Tomato" Too, Actually

Regarding yesterday's polygamy post, a reader asked whether "bigamy" would be a better term to use than "polygamy"; specifically, he suggested that I should have said, "remember that infidelity is bad but bigamy is much, much worse". His argument is that, while both terms refer to a situation where a person is married to two or people simultaneously, polygamy is a marital status which may or may not be frowned-upon, depending on your legal system or culture; moreover, "polygamy" implies that the various partners in the relationship entered into the multiple union willingly. "Bigamy", on the other hand, refers only to an illegal multiple marriage and implies that at least some of the parties did not willingly enter the union.

I tend to disagree about his characterizations of the terms, but his discussion of their respective definitions is correct. "Polygamy" may or may not be objectively illegal (I'll avoid the subjective term "wrong" here), whereas "bigamy" is always, by definition, illegal. Still, I meant my point to be a broader one -- focused more on the interpersonal consequences for those involved than on the legal consequences for the bigamist husband in the real-life example. One item in the linked article, which I did not quote in my excerpt, might possibly have made that clearer: "He pleaded guilty July 19 to two charges of bigamy and was given a four-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay $126 in costs, police said."

My point, however, was not that he had committed a criminal act but that he had personally betrayed three women, who all, very unfortunately for him, learned of his betrayal at the same time. In other words, his $126 fine for bigamy is the least of his worries. The reader's argument may be a valid one -- bigamy might be a better term for this particular situation than polygamy -- but I think it's probably beside the point (or my point, at least).

I could be wrong, though; I'll make a mental note to ask my wives about it.

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