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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Polygamous marriages won’t be recognised, say Government – but some already are

After the leaking of a Government document that suggested that multiple Islamic marriages could be officially recorded by the state, Ministers have made clear that no such plans are in train.

The internal document, prepared by civil servants, warned that women who enter religious marriages are “unprotected” if their husband then takes a second or third wife. One possible solution could be to require all Islamic and other religious marriages to be registered with state authorities, the document suggested.

The document was obtained by the former MP, Paul Goodman, who published extracts from it on his blog on the ConservativeHome website.

But the suggestion caused alarm among some MPs, who warned that any move towards official recognition of polygamy would be “wholly unacceptable”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government quickly ruled out legalising multiple sharia law marriages. A spokesman for the Department said: “The Government has ruled out the registration of Islamic marriages. Polygamy is illegal in Britain and will remain so.”

That does not mean, of course, that those participating in polygamous Islamic marriages that have been conducted abroad in countries where they are permitted do not qualify for benefits when they come to this country. An investigation by the Daily Mail showed that the authorities turn a blind eye to such arrangements and that benefits payments are made in recognition of them.

Published Fri, 29 Jul 2011