Polygamy in the Monogamous World: Multicultural Challenges for Western Law and Policy

Polygamy in the Monogamous World: Multicultural Challenges for Western Law and Policy

Polygamy in the Monogamous World: Multicultural Challenges for Western Law and Policy

Polygamy in the Monogamous World: Multicultural Challenges for Western Law and Policy

Synopsis

Under Islamic law, men are permitted to have up to four wives, provided they treat them equally. Thus, in countries like India and Malaysia, it is legal for Muslims to enter into polygamous marriages. Some Mormon groups, likewise, believe in plural marriage. How can such religious beliefs be squared with Western law and tradition?

Excerpt

Polygamy challenges the monogamous world on two fronts. The increasing flow of people across borders has brought legally married polygamous families into contact with the monogamous world. At the same time, fundamentalist Mormons within North America flout social conventions and marriage laws by entering into plural unions. Monogamous countries are struggling to craft policies that will maintain their own cultural commitment to monogamy while also according the appropriate degree of respect for the laws and values of polygamous countries. They are also working to end homegrown, extralegal plural unions. This double challenge has come as a surprise to monogamous countries, which had expected the practice of polygamy to fade away by the twenty-first century.

Contrary to the expectations—or hopes—of monogamous countries, polygamous countries continue to extend legal protection to religious or customary laws that permit polygamy. Often these countries maintain a system of “state legal pluralism” under which there are separate positive laws for each religious community, and customary practices are accorded legal weight. In the twentieth century, it was broadly assumed that religious and customary laws would be abandoned and that states would evolve into modern, secular, centralized regimes. This assumption has faltered because, with globalization, there has been a move away from the Enlightenment model of the nation-state toward a more decentralized and less homogenized model whose citizens have “multiple loyalty references.” Because it is no longer assumed that modernity brings with it the centralized nation-state, the assumption that polygamous countries would abandon their state legal pluralism has been attenuated.

In addition, the “secularization theory,” that is, the Enlightenment idea that modernity leads to a decline in religion, is no longer tenable. Peter L. Berger points out that “it is precisely this key idea that has turned out to be wrong,” and that “the world today, with some exceptions … is as furiously religious as it ever was, and some places more . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.