Friday, 29 June 2012
Same sex marriage and polygamy
In all the contention about same sex marriage, one issue was brought up on what might be termed the religious side of the debate, namely that to legislate for same sex marriage would lead to pressure to legalise polygamy. Now this has been described as a cynical ploy by those in favour of the government's proposal and I wasn't sure at first whether this was a genuine concern or not. Thinking through my earlier conclusions about devising and recognising separate religious and civil marriages, I rather think there may be some substance to what is being said.
Neil Addison published an article recently on the subject which you can see here:
Same sex marriage and polygamy - where's the link?
Now I'm not sure that there will be great pressure to recognise polygamy in English law, but giving religious marriage a separate and recognised status may do that quite unintentionally. Have a look at this:
Polygamy in the UK
Already it seems that there are increasing numbers of Muslims living polygamously and they are able to do this without infringing on their religious obligations because it is expressly provided for. Giving a legal status to the nikka means that polygamy gains a status in law which it does not and cannot have at present. On the other hand, if you choose to protect the present position by forbidding multiple wives either civilly or religiously, do you risk being seen to interfere in matters of religious observance? But, you may say, the practice of nikka in some quarters is already infringing on the legal position and we have chosen to do nothing about it. Why not allow Muslims to do whatever they choose? They are consenting adults, after all.
Is polygamy wrong in principle? As to that, I'm firmly with the British Colombian Chief Justice;
"polygyny contravenes women's rights to equality with the male, harms and impoverishes their children, and .... the practice harms ALL society in that it pits younger, poorer men against older, richer males in the search to collect women as concubines in their harems. (Mother Nature has not even made two women for every one man.) Every man who helps himself to four wives is robbing three other men of the chance to have a wife and family of their own, thus making polygyny an anti-social act. As well, while the man has a choice of sexual partners every night, the women must line up and take their turn, just as if they were cows waiting to be serviced by the bull. Moreover, only the first, legal wife and her children are entitled to share in the man's income, pensions, health, dental and vision coverage, etc. The remaining women and their children are on their own, and face poverty. "
Even to consider altering the consistent monogamous stance of English law for as long as there have been records is, so far as I am concerned, unthinkable. Equally, however, to allow some individuals to circumvent the law is unacceptable. If this is happening, and in the light of the BBC report there is every reason to think that it is, the time has come for it to be confronted. As I mentioned previously, an entirely parallel jurisdiction is being constructed and this must be to the overall detriment not only of individuals who may be pressured into accepting it, but also for society as a whole. To me, this is a far more pressing issue than same sex marriage. I really do wish sometimes that politicians could get their priorities right.
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