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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  1. If an adult, regardless of race, religions, gender, or sexual orientation, is free to marry any consenting adults under a system of gender equality, then polygyny, which is just one form of polygamy is not a problem.

    Adults are generally free under current law to have multiple different sex partners night after night, move in together, move out, and have children with different partners... we just do not allow one person to actually marry more than one person at a time. This doesn't make sense to me.

    Contract law and business law already deal with one of the main issues as far as the government is concerned: dividing finances in the event an "investor" or partner wants to leave. Inheritance? People already fight about those things. I fail to see how polygamy would make it worse, especially if part of the marriage paperwork asks for specifications in that regard. As far as child custody... supposedly monogamous couples already fight about that; I fail to see how polygamy would make it worse. We also have DNA testing now that can clear up any doubts about biological connections.

    There is no rational reason, consistently applied to other situations, to deny an adult the right to marry any consenting adults. Equality just for some is not equality. Full marriage equality is needed.

  2. Do you think that the next step will in fact be to press for a further deregulation of marriage to include the option of multiple spouses?

  3. Thank you for paying attention to this matter, Mr. James. As an anti-polygamy activist in the states, it is encouraging to see the issue receive some thoughtful consideration.

    We have an estimated 30,000-40,000 practicing Mormon fundamentalist polygamists in America, and another estimated 50,000 Muslim polygamists. Those who are not yet citizens are breaking the terms of their signed immigration agreements, which makes them eligible for immediate deportation back to their original country of origin, yet no one in the federal government seems to mind at all.

    The problems this causes, which can be proven with empirical research studies, including poverty, mental and emotional suffering, child marriage and molestation seem to take a back seat to "consenting adults" doing whatever they like in the name of their religion. Polygamy is not a harmless practice. Fully 80% of the women in Afghanistan want it abolished and prohibited. Over 70% of Muslim first wives interviewed say their permission for their husband to take another spouse was never sought, even though it is supposedly a requirement of Islamic law.

    Polygamy is the abuse and enslavement of women. If it were not, the women in countries where it is most regularly practiced would not be so anxious to call for its end.

    Thank you, again, for bringing attention the human rights abuse of polygamy.