New Kenyan Law Legalizes Polygamy

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a bill that legalizes polygamous unions, which allows men to marry as many wives as they wish.

President Kenyatta signed the polygamy measure into law Tuesday, formally recognizing what has been a cultural practice in the nation for many years.

The Marriage Act 2014, Kenya's new polygamy law, is long overdue and has more positive than negative attributes, said Lawyer Judy Thongori to The Associated Press. The female lawyer said the number of women a man can marry depends on the traditions of his tribe. Kenya has 42 tribes and many do not put a cap on the number of wives a man can marry as long as he can afford it.

Thongori's support for the new law is steeped in her country's heritage. She mentioned that British colonialists made the previous laws governing marriages and unions before Kenya gained independence in 1963 and did not capture the value systems of the indigenous populations.

According to CNN, Parliament passed the bill in March despite the angry protests female lawmakers took during the session.

Prior to the bill's revision, the initial bill allowed the first wife the right to refuse her husband's choice of additional wives. Male members of parliament successfully pushed to get that clause dropped.

In his online address, President Kenyatta said, "Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman whether in a monogamous or polygamous union," Kenyatta said in a statement. "The Marriage Act 2014 defines various types of marriages including monogamous, polygamous, customary, Christian, Islamic and Hindu marriages."

Although the law legalizes polygamous unions without putting an official limit on the number of wives a man can have, it does strip the power of a woman to choose her marriage arrangement, says The Federation of Women Lawyers.

"What we are not happy about is that now a man can marry another wife or wives without the consent of the first wife," she said. "That section of the law is potentially open to abuse because a man can secretly marry other wives because he doesn't need his wife's consent to marry."

The woman's right group praised some aspects of the law by stating that the bill is long overdue in recognizing "customary" or polygamous marriages with regular marriages by now issuing a certificate and giving multiple wives a legal union.

[Photo Credit: The Presidency]