ARTICLE 134- BIGAMY
Bigamy is covered under Article 134 which is called the 'general article', because it also covers many other offenses. The text of the article says that all neglects and disorders which can prejudice the discipline and good order present in the armed forces, all kinds of conduct that can bring discredit to the armed forces or other crimes and offenses, though not capital, committed by an enlisted member, shall be punished by convening a court martial.
The punishment thus levied will be according to the degree and nature of the offense. Note that every element of the offense or the crime that the defendant is charged with, must be proved.
ELEMENTS THAT HAVE TO BE PROVEN
- The prosecution has to prove that the defendant's legally wedded spouse was alive, yet the enlisted member went ahead and entered into matrimony with another person.
- In the circumstance, the defendant's conduct was prejudiced against the discipline and good order in the armed forces or it is of a nature that discredited the armed forces.
EXPLANATION FOR THE ELEMENTS
An enlisted member of the armed forces is said to have committed bigamy when the individual contracted another marriage when he or she already had a legally wedded and living spouse. If a prior marriage is void, the status of 'lawful spouse' is not created. However, if it was voidable and a competent authority had not held is as such, the individual cannot use it as a defense to validate his consequent marriage. A prior marriage should have ended by divorce, death of the prior spouse, or otherwise. The belief will hold as a defense, only if it is reasonable.
MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT FOR AN ENLISTED MEMBER HELD GUILTY OF BIGAMY
If an accused is held guilty of bigamy, he can be handed a dishonorable discharge, forfeit of allowances and pay and 2 years of confinement.
A RECENT CASE IN THE ARMY INVOLVING A CHARGE OF BIGAMY
There have been many cases of bigamy in the US armed forces, where the accused have been brought to book. There was a recent case involving a decorated colonel.
The colonel and his first wife had filed for divorce, but the process was not yet complete. After some time, the first wife underwent surgery and as the wife of a serving officer, she was eligible for military health insurance. She had applied for that facility. To her horror, she discovered that her name had been struck off from the military health insurance system.
Apparently, the colonel had married his Iraqi lover by double proxy. County documents showed that it was a valid marriage. The marriage had occurred when the Colonel was being investigated for other criminal acts under the UCMJ, which were discovered after the first wife complained.
In the meanwhile, the army had already removed him from his command and moved him to another base. The first wife claimed that when her husband was in Afghanistan, he had caused her command sponsorship to be revoked and she was sent back to the US from Italy, under a fast tracked Return of Dependence process.
If the Colonel is court martialed, apart from losing his army post, he will also lose his pay and allowances. In which case, the plaintiff will also lose the retirement benefits and other lifelong benefits, she would have gained as the wife of an army officer.
American troops are stationed in many countries, like the gulf countries where customs like bigamy, (which is not condoned in the US) are legally and socially acceptable. Bigamy might be legal in those countries, but if it is proved that an enlisted member engaged in such an activity, he will be punished according to the statutes of the UCMJ. For more information on this article, please refer to the Manual for Courts Martial.