Title: Polygamy and Commonwealth Law Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 23rd December 2004 - 12:00pm1103756400 Article: 546 Rights
During their anti-civil unions campaign, the Christian Right mouthed cliches about the imminent introduction of polygamous marriage laws if our Parliament passed that legislation. As one might guess, there's less to this than meets the eye. I consulted Butterworths' Family Law in New Zealand (2003) on the matter and discovered the following. Polygamous relationships exist in jurisdictions that encompass both heterosexual monogamy and polygamy within religious worldviews, tradition and law, like Sri Lanka. In these societies, polygamy is legally binding in terms of its obligations on its partners, even if the male polygamist decides that he now wants a monogamous marital relationship. In the United Kingdom and New Zealand, overseas polygamous marriages weren't recognised until the early eighties, so a polygamous partner couldn't divorce on the basis of marital infidelity, wasn't entitled to a legal deed of separation, and a male polygamist wasn't liable for maintenance of previous polygamous female spouses. Under New Zealand's Family Proceedings Act 1980, that situation has now changed. If celebrated within a society that recognises the legality and ethical status of polygamy, then that relationship can be recognised as a polygamous marriage. However, New Zealand does not permit celebration of polygamous heterosexual marriage within its territorial boundaries. Furthermore, if an initially polygamous marital partner emigrates to a monogamy-only society, then their relationship can be converted to a monogamous one. After Hassan v Hassan [1978] (1 NZLR 385-), overseas polygamous heterosexual marriages are held to be voided if either participant is domiciled in New Zealand. As one might guess, the Marriage Act 1955 is the key to this situation, as it specifies that one can only marry one heterosexual partner at a time. The Civil Union Act contains parallel provisions that prevent legal recognition of same-sex polygamous marriage equivalents. Contrary to Christian Right paranoid fantasies, these don't exist anywhere at the moment. If one's personal religious beliefs forbid polygamy, the same ban applies. Polygamous partners also appear to be forbidden to contract additional marriages whilst resident within New Zealand. At the moment, widows of polygamouys marriages, polygamous spousal co-conspirators, social welfare benefit status and accident compensation status for polygamous spouses are situated within a legal grey area, although children and polygamous wives do have succession rights under British law. However, matrimonial relief may be available within the terms of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 if both partners lived in jursidictions that allowed polygamous marriage when they originally married. Over the last two years, there have been harrowing accounts of life in abusive gated communities within Colorado, Utah, Canada and Mexico. Denizens of these communities are affiliated to the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, which didn't recognise Utah's prohibition of polygamy after it joined the rest of the United States in 1890. Given that Colorado Springs is infested with US Christian Right pressure groups, it is odd that Focus on the Family or other such organisations haven't devoted more attention to these isolated rural border communities. Could this situation change? In Canada, there has always been a potential question about whether or not the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would rule out previous legal sanctions against polygamy on the basis of religious freedom. The FCLDS' Canadian satellite settlements are exploring that option, but the Economist didn't rate their chances of success highly when it covered the story, earlier this year. However, schismatic Mormonoids aren't the only ones who are exploring this controversial area of spousal and family law. In Canada, there's one pending immigration case under appeal, where a polygamous male Pakistani refugee was refused resettlement due to his intention to contract a polygamous spousal relationship if allowed to remain in Canada. In this case, the man in question provided evidence that his life would be endangered if he was refused resettlement, and was deported back to Pakistan. This situation is considerably different from the aforementioned schismatic Mormonoid sects, which are rife with spousal rape, heterosexual paedophilia and domestic violence. In conclusion, then heterosexual polygamy inhabits a grey area within New Zealand. Only time will tell if the above Canadian immigration case will provide case law for exemptions on the basis of humanitarian considerations related to refugee or asylum seeker status, like the one described above. Even then, it may or may not be followed within New Zealand. Recommended Reading: Ali v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) [1999] 1 FCD 53: Family Law in New Zealand: Butterworths: Wellington: 2003. John Krakauer: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith: London: Macmillan: 2003. "Polygamy in Canada: Ending Half A Century of Exploitation" Economist (UK): 08.07.04: Dorothy Solomon: Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy: New York: WW Norton and Company: 2003. Craig Young - 23rd December 2004    
This page displays a version of the article with all formatting and images removed. It was harvested automatically and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. A copy of the full article is available (off-line) at the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand. This online version is provided for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us