Conservative Muslims and others will ‘inevitably’ push for polygamous and polyamorous marriages to be legalised if the government goes ahead with its plans to redefine marriage, according to one top barrister.
Following the closure of the government’s public consultation on equal marriage on Thursday, lawyer Neil Addison told Lapido: ‘If same-sex marriage is legalised then it is inevitable that legal polygamy will be requested.
‘After all if heterosexuality is no longer to be part of the legal definition of marriage, why should monogamy continue?’
A recent report by the BBC Asian Network revealed that polygamy – or more specifically polygyny, the practice of having more than one wife - was on the rise among Muslim communities where men can marry several women under the religious ‘nikah’ ceremony despite these marriages not being recognised in UK law.
Mr Addison, the UK’s authority on religious freedom legislation, said: ‘It is already an open secret that amongst the Muslim community there are a number of unregistered polygamous marriages and this means that these extra ‘wives’ are denied legal status, the rights of a next of kin and rights of inheritance – all the arguments that were originally used to justify same-sex civil partnerships.’
But Anne Marie Waters of One Law For All campaign against sharia law said she found the comparison between same-sex marriages and polygamous marriages ‘offensive’.
She told Lapido: ‘I don’t object to polygamy for any other reason than it reduces the status of women in marriage. It makes women one of four rather than an equal partner and this is incredibly serious. If people want to live in this way privately, that is their concern, but a marriage containing people of unequal standing should not be countenanced by the state.’
Ms Waters added that any comparison between child marriages and same-sex marriage was ‘disgusting’. ‘Gay people unfortunately are deliberately targeted by homophobes in this way. Of course there is no comparison between a relationship of two adults of equal status joining together for life, and a criminal and deeply damaging abuse of children.’
But Mr Addison maintained that if the parties involved in a polygamous marriage were consenting adults, then it should logically follow that they be allowed to marry in the same way as two consenting men or two consenting women will be allowed to if marriage is redefined.
It is also the case that Islam sanctions the marriage of minors in many parts of the world, including Saudi Arabia and parts of Nigeria. In late April of this year, the Wahhabi grand Mufti Al-Sheikh in Saudi Arabia announced that girls could be forced into marriage at age 10 or 12, without their consent, by contractual arrangement between families.
And no action has yet been taken against Nigerian legislator Alhaji Ahmad Sani Yariman Bakura, former governor of Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria, and now a federal senator, under whose governorship, Zamfara became the first state in Nigeria to claim adoption of public law based on a Wahhabi form of Islamic shariah, in 2000.
He paid USD100,000 for marriage to a 13-year old Egyptian female, who was not named but was reported to be the daughter of Sani’s Egyptian driver.
The wedding was celebrated at the national mosque in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Local media noted that Sani had divorced one of his four wives to make room for the Egyptian girl. The wedding was illegal in Egypt, where the ‘bride’ would be considered a minor.
The BBC report What’s wrong with polygamy? in September suggests that the practice is becoming increasingly popular among younger Muslims who are returning to a perceived orthodoxy.
Perminder Khatkar, who researched the programme for the BBC, said that polygamy was becoming an attractive option for professional women who were keen on being a second wife because it would mean the first wife could look after her children while she pursued a career.
The Coalition for Marriage’s ‘slippery slope’ argument, which claims that gay marriage will ultimately lead to polygamous marriages has been criticised by commentators, but Mr Addison believes there may be some truth in the claims.
He said in cases where the parties entered into the agreement voluntarily, that it would be hypocritical to ban the marriages if same-sex marriages were allowed.
He said: ‘After all if the individuals concerned are ‘in love’ and voluntarily want to enter a multi-partner relationship, what business is it of the state to prevent them registering their relationship? Indeed surely it is discriminatory to prevent it.
‘On what logical, non-judgmental basis should a bisexual person be denied the right to have both a husband and a wife if the proposed partners are willing to consent to being part of such a polyamorous relationship?’
Debra Majeed, associate professor of religious studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin, US, and an apologist for Islamic polygamy, said that the concepts of same-sex marriage and polygynous marriages should be separated.
She told Lapido: ‘Both involve different issues and Muslims who support or oppose either do so on Qur’anic exegesis as well as their understandings of legal obligations in Muslim-minority societies.
‘Conservatives or Muslims who take a traditional view of the Qur’an would support polygyny and reject homosexuality.’
Note: The Qur’an prohibits homosexuality and has five references to homosexual practise, the two main ones being Q7:80-81 and Q26:165. Only the hadith followed by the Hanbali school however prescribe the death penalty for it. Executions are regularly carried out in Iran, and they have been known more rarely under the Taleban in Afghanistan.