Attitudes to Polygamy in English Law

Shah, Prakash

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This article documents recent developments in British legal policy towards polygamy. The issue of polygamy became linked to the arrival and the different cultural patterns of Asian and African migrants to Britain in the post Second World War period. At first, questions were raised about the recognition of polygamous unions or the possibility of English law’s control over men in such situations. Thus polygamy came up as an issue in official legal arenas in the context of the complex choice of law rules that fell to be considered under English conflicts of law or private international law. From the late 1970s, however, these were directly related to immigration matters, notably where there was a refusal to recognise the validity of a marriage when an application for entry clearance was made by a second wife. In the late 1980s, with the Immigration Act of 1988, a ban on the entry of second wives was prominently announced by statute with the background of family reunion among Bangladeshi migrants. It is also notable that legislation against polygamy in this way, if not necessarily directed at Muslims, has been closely associated with controlling the of immigration of Muslims as the case law appears to indicate. Interestingly, the ban on second wives coincided with the high point of political agitation against the Muslim presence in Britain in education and was very soon overshadowed by the Satanic Verses affair. It could thus also be seen as a redrawing of culturally articulated battles lines in the ‘clash of civilisations’. It will be argued that such culture wars, while not achieving the aim of eliminating polygamy as ethnic minorities continue to navigate among various legal levels to circumvent official laws, are being waged potentially at the expense of women and against the best interests of their children.

Document type: Article
Date: 2001
Version: Secondary publication
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2009 14:30
Faculties / Institutes: Organisations / Associations / Foundations > Centre for Applied South Asian Studies (CASAS)
DDC-classification: Law
Controlled Keywords: Großbritannien, Eherecht, Polygamie, Einwanderer
Uncontrolled Keywords: Recht; Familienrecht, Polygamy , Great Britain , Marriage Law , Immigrant
Subject (classification): Law
Countries/Regions: other countries
Series: Themen > CASAS Online Papers: Ethnic Plurality and Law
Volume: 13