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Is polygamy a Muslim thing or a world order?

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba

It is very wrong for people to portray polygamy as a Muslim thing yet it is well known that the Bible is pro-polygamy. Polygamy is one of the grand Bible-based values people don’t like to talk about. You will find nothing in the Bible, Old or New Testament, that discredits polygamy. Actually, the Bible does not restrict how many wives a man can have. Only that he must be married to whoever he has sex with. In the Bible, King Solomon, who was one of the ‘good guys’ had 1000 wives and concubines. According to the Bible, a man may have sex with any woman who is legally his property. This means polygamy is acceptable under biblical morality. Almost all the Biblical great personalities had multiple wives and concubines (David, Solomon, Isaac, Abraham, Gideon, Machir, Manasseh, Esau, Isreal, Jacob etc). For instance, in Exodus 21:10, a man can marry any number of women without any limits. In 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, 14:3, King David had six wives and numerous concubines. In 1 Kings 11:3, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In 2 Chronicles 11:21, King Solomon’s son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines. In Deuteronomy 21:15 ‘If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons….’. In Deuteronomy 25:5 if a woman’s husband dies, and she didn’t have any kids from him, then she must marry his brother regardless whether he had a wife or not.

Polygamy has been practised for thousands of years. Polygamy stretches back, at least thousands of years, to the Babylonian empire. In Sweden, there is now a movement for legalised polygamy and the abolition of marriage. In Canada, two out of four reports on polygamy commissioned by the Canadian government recommended decriminalisation and regulation of the practice. In USA, polygamy is supported in principle by the American Civil Liberties Union. There are also Mormons living in suburban Utah who are polygamous despite the fact that polygamy is banned in the Utah Constitution and is a criminal offence. While polygamy is technically illegal in Utah, tens of thousands of devout Christians there still practise it. Some husbands have as many as seven wives. The law isn’t enforced much. While Bill Clinton also condemned polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church when campaigning to be president and targeting women votes, his great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.

Homosexuality and polygamy

It’s also wrong to compare polygamy to gay marriage or homosexuality. Gay marriage and polygamy are like apples and oranges. Polygamy would only be a fair comparison if the attempt was to have gays be able to have multiple spouses. There is more of a precedent in human history for polygamous marriage, than for ‘same sex marriage. Same-sex ‘marriage’ used to be only legal in Massachusetts in 2004.

I believe that supporters of homosexuality normally sneak in this issue because they are confusing ‘zoning laws’ with rules and regulations that are set up for no other reason than to specifically protect and preserve the prevailing moral values of the community. These are the same types of regulations that keep me from dancing nude in my front yard. The government has the right to restrict and regulate those things in public that the majority of society feels is inappropriate, as homosexuality is the case in Africa. The government has a compelling reason to control this behaviour for no other reason than protecting the prevailing moral values of the community.

Polygamy laws have always been difficult to prosecute anywhere in the world because men generally obtain marriage licences for only their first wives. Subsequent marriages are performed secretly, and the additional wives often present themselves to society as single women with children. As a result, there are therefore several polygamists in the UK, USA and other developed nations, and there is nothing the governments can do about it.

Women rights

I support women rights and I would love my sisters to get married to single men but I will never stand in their way if they go for a polygamous marriage. Polygamy only violates women rights as long as it is non-consensual. I don’t believe in the notion that love divided up means less love per share, as every woman has got something special about her. If we gave women a choice now, it could make more sense for them to be the second wife of a rich man than the first wife of a poor one. The anthropologist Laura Betzig is quoted as saying, ‘Which woman would not rather be John Kennedy’s third wife than Bozo the Clown’s first?’Some suggest that the end of polygamy will come through the empowerment of women, but it has instead created a lot of problems in developed nations where women are so much empowered- since few men want to marry them.

So please let us not legislate against polygamy in Uganda but instead put more effort in fighting problems women face such as: female circumcision, domestic violence, girls education, unequal employment opportunities, pregnancy discrimination at work and the right to inherit their fathers’ property.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba is a Ugandan living in the UK.

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