From the Back Catalogue: Me and Polygamy

Posted on 29 November 2010

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This entry was originally posted on 14 July 2008. I still use it as an example of the randomness of the opinions that I blog about and it has come to mind recently since Ben Law talked about the diversity of families that exist in our country.

I can’t believe I wrote this over two years ago. The idea of legalising polygamy was much in the news that month and this was my response to what I saw as the ridiculous patheticness of what passed for debate in Australia’s news media. The original post with comments is at sarahjansen.com.

Image credit kiwinz cc-by

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Polygamy and the Australian Way of Life

The recent calls for Australia to legalise polygamy to accommodate the country’s Muslim community have sparked some interesting discussions in the media.

There have been a lot of statements about the issue of polygamy — a word that covers both multiple wives and multiple husbands — and how it relates to the “Australian way of life”. One camp says it threatens or is counter to it and therefore should not even be considered. The other camp says that it is rare for Australian Muslims anyway and that there are polygamous marriages here already so making it legal wouldn’t threaten anything.

No one is talking about what the Australian way of life actually is, and why it is feeling so threatened.

From this framing of the debate, I’m forcefully reminded (again) that the Australian way of life is steeped in fear and loathing of all things non-Anglo-Celtic in origin. Modern Australian culture grew from and is based on British culture; there is no argument against that. There is also no need for this basis or beginning to be the end of its development.

The Australian way of life has managed to expand over the years to include Mediterranean and Asian cultures (although the beginnings of these expansions were admittedly rocky) so it seems to me that the Australian way of life is intrinsically elastic.

Notwithstanding, there are always people who just don’t want any change at all, and there are always those who think everyone should want exactly what they do.

Looking at the downsides of polygamy laws in other countries has been the rebuttal of many pundits arguing against legalising polygamy here. For them, highlighting the degradations and injustices that wives in plural marriages suffer in countries where their situation is legal is the basis for an argument against creating laws here.

Yet finding out about the flaws in other systems should be a starting point for formulating a fair, workable framework allowing Australians to choose with whom they spend their lives and allowing them to publicly declare their loving, lifelong commitments to each other and ensuring that all parties are protected and cared for.

An Australian model of polygamy would need to give equal rights and responsibilities to men and women, including the ability to take additional spouses. It would need to have some requirement that all existing parties in a marriage need to consent to a new spouse. It would probably make life easier for everyone if all parties had their own prenuptial agreements, but that would need to be worked out individually.

When you resolve the issues of women being forced to live in unpleasant situations or being financially powerless, the only objections left are the weak cries of “it’s just not right” and “it’s always been done this way here”.

These cries are coming from Australians who can’t stomach the idea that there are actually people who want different things from them, and from those who just can’t handle any change at all.

If these people scream loudly enough it will seem that they are the majority. How long they get to look like the voice of the mythical “ordinary Australian” depends on whether the rest of us are happy to be told how to live — and with whom.

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