Last week rather than criminal activity I wrote about metaphysical disturbances. This week I return to crime. Criminal behavior is conduct or activity that a consensus of people within a culture chooses to sanction. Murder is universally criminalized. No society that we have evidence of has allowed members of the community to freely murder each other. The state always intervenes. We also use the criminal law to rope off the perimeter of what is an acceptable family unit. Bigamy is the legal hammer.
Most countries forbid a man to have more than one wife, or a woman from having more than one husband (which is technically called polyandry). That is two plus one, at the same time is a big no, no. You might argue that in the West, with easy divorce, sequential marrying has become an overpriced, but degraded form of bigamy. But in places like Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria (west Africa) and most Muslim countries, in practice, there is no law against bigamy. The numbers (there is a limit) don’t bother them the way it bothers a lot of people.
Thailand is an example of a country where officially a man can have only one ‘legal’ (meaning registered) wife. But in practice a large number of Thai men have unofficial ‘minor wives’. Polygyny is another concept. It is usually defined as a family unit with one man and multiple wives. It is another one of those impossible-to-remember-how- to spell terms best left to dusty sociology books.
If you live in California, here are the steps to report bigamists. There isn’t information whether there is a reward in California for dropping the dime on a bigamists.
General (Ret.) Sonthi Boonyaratglin, former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army and former head of the Council for National Security, the military junta that ruled the kingdom, according to Wikipedia has two wives. He is also a Muslim and has made no attempt to conceal his matrimonial status. And as far as can be known, no one has sought to arrest him on charges of bigamy. Indeed there appears to be an unofficial policy of allowing Muslims to have more than one wife. Indeed, it seems the unofficial practice is not to prosecute bigamists in Thailand.
In India, with both Hindu and Muslim populations, the former prohibiting bigamy and the latter allowing it, there has been the occasional conversion to Islam in order to marry a second wife without divorcing the first. It didn’t work well for a politician who tried it.
It might be useful to seek out legal advice before taking on that second, third or fourth wife. Though, as a former lawyer, I can tell you the advice will be that marrying a second woman without divorcing the first is a breach of Thai law. But will you go to prison? Bigamy isn’t exactly murder. The answer a lawyer would give is: it depends on a number of factors, including: your religion, nationality, social status, and attitude of the family of those involved. Or he/she might say—your chances of getting away with the crime are pretty good. Just get on with it and see what happens. Then stick the client with a bill for a grand. Anyone thinking about bigamy usually has got a high pain threshold and an apparently high capacity for spending money on a whim. The potential bigamist is one of the best clients a lawyer could have.
Now, after the lawyer rant, back to Thai law. Marriage registration in Thailand is done on a provincial basis. Given there are seventy-seven provinces, and the lack of computerized systems in some of the more remote provinces has opened up possibilities for the man wishing to register more than one wife.
In 2005, a Bangkok Senator named Wallop was quoted by The Nation as saying, “officials at the Provincial Administration Department of the Interior Ministry had confirmed that married men often registered double or even triple marriages by taking new brides at remote locations where official computer systems were not available to check their marital status. A few polygamous souls married even four times without a single divorce, Wallop added.”
Thai wives had complained to the government and they ‘looked into it’ and with most things the government looks into, they just looked.
Thai law is clear on this status issue, providing, “Applicants must not be currently married.” Conditions of Eligibility for Marriage, Thai Civil Law, B.E. 2529. But Thai law is clear on a large number of matters and that doesn’t necessarily mean the implementation and enforcement of the law is consistent or reliable.
Thailand isn’t unique in the non-enforcement of the bigamy law. Canada also prohibits polygyny by law although there hasn’t been a prosecution for violating that law for sixty years.
The media loves a good bigamy story (as obviously do bloggers). A twenty-four year old Thai man called Mr. Wichai, a native of Samut Songkram province, who by all accounts was a pretty ordinary fellow. He earned his livelihood hawking second-hand goods. But he must have had something quite special going for him as he married, (according to Thai Rath) gorgeous twins named Ms. Sirintara and Ms. Thipawan, aged twenty-two. The bridegroom professed “his sincerest ‘equal love’ for both of them.” Apparently both sets of parents were very happy for the newly wedded threesome. Mr. Wichai sweetened the pie by contributing a dowry of “eight baht of gold and 80,000 baht” for each of his new brides. There was no mention of how a second-handed goods sales guy got his hands on that kind of wealth. In fairness, that is an omission from many local stories involving politicians, police, soldiers, or ordinary second-hand merchandise vendors.
Every man would like to have had Mr. Wichai’s mother as their own. Somehow I can’t imagine my mother preparing two rooms in the family house for her son and his two brides. But Mr. Wichai’s mother did. The question lurking in the back of everyone’s lurid mind was what were the sleeping arrangements? Mr. Wichai was prepared, and quoted as saying, “’Absolutely no problems! For the first three nights of the week, I will sleep with Ms. Thipawan and the next three will be spent with Ms Sirintara. As for every Saturday, the three of us will sleep together’.” Right out of the Ten Minute Manager for Bigamists: Guide of How to Manage Your Time Effectively.
From time to time, it would be good if the press filed follow up reports to see how the schedule has worked out, whether any police have been around with warrants, and whether he claims tax deduction for both wives. At the end of the day, in the case of the crime of bigamy, at least in Thailand and Canada, there’s no ground swell to charge and imprisonment the miscreants.
There is a downside (isn’t there always?) in turning a blind eye to the Mr. Wichais of the Asian world. Given a preference for male babies there is a fairly significant imbalance between males and females. Allowing the alpha males with tough and status to take two or three or more women out of the marriage market leaves that many more males without the hope of finding a woman to marry. History has a lesson that when too many young men fighting over too few women often leads to violence and war. While Mr. Wichai has a rather tight schedule. The idle, single young men who won’t be finding a wife, have time on their hands and anger in their hearts. There are other more serious crimes that such men ultimately commit without the presence of a good woman to keep their impulses in check. The tragedy of life is there is no free lunch.
My feeling is that over time Mr. Wichai case might provide evidence of a theory I have as to why neither Thailand nor Canada actively goes after bigamists. It is this. Bigamy is one of the few crimes where the perpetrator is most likely to become the victim. If he is indeed married to several women at the same time, with until death do us part, that sound pretty similar to a series of consecutive life sentence without the possibility of parole. He’s joined the serial killer who also fall into the throw away the key sentencing category.
If after the romantic interlude, things don’t turn out—those extra partners increase the probability of conflict—well, you get the picture. He’s gonna suffer big time. That lawyer’s fee cited above, there was a reason for talking about a grand fee to warn the guy to have second thoughts before those additional weddings. Because when he comes back through the door after one of the wives goes after him legally, that one grand is just a nice warm up to the total damage lawyers and courts will be inflicted on him. And rather than going back to a lonely apartment to drink a nice whiskey, he goes back to a couple of other women waiting for him. I don’t think they’re gonna be in a great mood. He’s gonna wish for solitary confinement in a maximum security prison is my guess.
As that Asian philosopher Vincent Calvino once said: “One wife is never enough, and two are one too many.”
Having been married for ten years to one intelligent, caring, insightful and kind wife, I can say that Calvino is wrong on this one. With the right woman, one wife can indeed be just right. May be its time for Vincent Calvino to get married. And as a writer, I have to stop blowing up, stabbing and shooting all the potential women he falls in love with.
Note to self: Find Vinny a wife pretty much like your own.
Note from agent: Are you f***king crazy? Happiness would kill any noir crime series.
Note to Calvino: Nothing personal. Just remember once you get too involved, it is inevitable. She’s gonna get whacked. Sorry, but it’s the nature of the writing game.