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The Government may recognise polygamous shariah marriages

By Paul Goodman
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The suggestion is contained in a discussion paper for the Government's draft integration strategy, which is in front of me as I write.  The paper for an internal "Integration and Tolerance Working Group", titled "Creating the conditions for integration", says:

"Similarly, religious marriage is not recognised by the State unless you choose for it to be so.  This leaves an individual who enters into religious marriages unprotected if their partner enters a second or third religious marriage.  This can be remedied by requiring both religious marriages and religious divorces to be registered with civil authorities.  Likewise, there could be a duty on anyone conducting religious marriages and divorces to register with the state."

Although this language doesn't specifically cite Islamic marriages, it clearly refers to them, since no other mainstream faith allows a person to enter into more than a single marriage at one time.  Under Islamic law, a man is permitted up to four wives.

For the state to register religious marriages would raise the question of whether or not it recognised them in law, breaching the traditional position of marriage being an act that legally takes place between one man and one woman.

Any formal recognition of second, third and fourth sharia marriages in law could raise tax questions about new applicabilities for the present capital gains tax and inheritance tax exemptions for married couples, as well as family law and wider integration questions.

The proposal to require those who conduct religious marriages and divorces to register would also imply the nationalisation of Jewish and Islamic religious courts.  The paper asks whether these suggestions could "harm integration into British society" and "give rise to the potential for conflict in communities".

It also labels the Catholic Church and evangelical groups "illiberal", citing gay adoption and the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who refused to allow a gay couple to stay in their hotel.  It refers to "faith groups who are not consumed by ideologies that preach hatred/destruction but have conscentious beliefs that are illiberal".

3pm Update The Government has moved quickly to distance itself from its own discussion document, and has ruled out a claim not made in the article above.  In a statement, the DCLG said that "polygamy is illegal in Britain and will remain so".  The statement does not rule out registration.


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