Kenya has just introduced a law on marriages. This law seeks to amalgamate all existing laws on marriages in Kenya into one single law. The law allows for polygamy under certain circumstances. This is what has caught the attention of many Kenyans both locally and internationally. Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the law, the Marriage Act 2014, on 29 April 2014. This is despite an outcry over the bill from a section of the Kenyan people. Educated women were the most disapproving of the new Act. Women parliamentarians also fought hard against the bill though I believe they did not fight hard/smart enough. The debate on the new law has just begun. Here is my perspective on it.
The poverty and unemployment rates in Kenya both stand at over forty percent. Starvation, illiteracy (in the proper sense of the word) and disease are an everyday fact yet here we are, discussing polygamy. Such trivial discussions are an economic crime at a time such as this. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. The economy comes first. There is no political and social setup including polygamy that can survive under the cloud of an impaired economy but this is Kenya. I expect such trivial discussions and misplaced priorities.
Polygamy destabilizes the structure of the family in contemporary society. This instability further destabilizes the resources open to the contemporary family. A monogamous family is economically efficient. It can adapt to changing economic environments quickly and effectively. A polygamous family reduces itself to base instincts i.e. feeding, copulation and survival. It bears many children but these children lack the education, guidance and resources as would have been availed to them under a monogamous marriage.
Freedoms under the law should also be open to all who live under the sun and beyond. This includes men, women and children. You cannot assign or tilt freedoms/liberties towards a certain group and leave the other disenfranchised. Men and women should have equal rights not only in paper but in practice as well. This law tilts the scale towards men.
There is no recognition of polyandry under customary, Islāmic, Christian or Hindu law. Dictation of terms in marriage now squarely lies with the man. Dialogue is no longer effective when the man can just as easily take another wife. Intellectual, economic and political pursuits for our women are now in jeopardy. Where are we going when the strongest of us cannot come with us? Women hold this country together. We will never be free until they are also free.
Marriage is a matter of personal choice and preference. What is a proper marriage to you may not be a proper marriage to me. The state cannot and should not interfere with marriages. This is the work of the Church and other religious institutions i.e. to encourage constructive thought on marriages and discourage undesired practices. In so saying, the government should limit its role in marriages or stay away from it completely. It should not define marriage under various codes or practices.
The state is a secular entity. It should always stay secular. This means that the definition of marriage should be standard. More specifically, you cannot have a law in support of either polygamy or polyandry. You either introduce both or do away with both. The rest you leave to personal choice. You should also do away with compartmentalized definitions of marriage such as customary, Islāmic, Christian or Hindu marriages. These compartmentalized definitions are archaic, idiotic and unbecoming of a civilized state free of colonial masters.
You may also want to read the following article on marriages. Please click on the following link to find out more.