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Monday, 10 June 2013

Should Polygamy be Legal in the UK?

About 2 weeks ago I noticed on my Facebook feed that Al Jazeera English were hosting a discussion during their "The Stream" programme on the potential legalisation of polygamy in the US. Shortly thereafter, there were references to the potential legalisation of polygamy in the UK.

In the US it seems to be a definite intention to debate the legalisation of polygamy while in the UK it seems to stem from some of the clauses captured in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which starts its passage in the House of Lords today. It is expected to be a rough ride but supporters are certain it will eventually find its way into statute paving the way for legal marriages between same sex couples.

However, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that "legalising same-sex marriage could pave the way for polygamy" and suggested "there was a "slippery slope" to allowing a "Mormon-style relationship"."

So, watch what happens in the US because where America treads we will surely follow and even if they don't make it legal across the pond it seems we could well be setting ourselves up for legalisation of polygamy through the back door anyway.

So, what do I think about it?

As long as it's done in accordance with all the other legislation we have surrounding EQUALITY then I'm in favour!!!

Traditionally the Christian view has been that marriage is an honourable institution before God being the union of one man with one woman until death do them part. Any legislation legalising polygamy will surely not be a compulsion to be polygamous so those who hold to the Christian faith will still be at liberty to enjoy their monogamy.

Also, those who believe in divorce and remarriage, a form of serial monogamy, will still be at liberty to continue with this lifestyle. In fact, you could say that serial monogamy dates back to pagan times when there would be a hand-fasting ceremony in the spring and couples would be bound together for a year. At the end of the year the couple could either stay together for another year or hand-fast with someone else.

Anyway, back to the point.

On March 25, 1957, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg (the six nations of the Coal and Steel Community) signed a treaty in Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. In 1973 the UK (after a referendum), Ireland and Denmark also joined the community which now numbered 9 nations. Since then the community has grown to 27 nations and is now knows as the European Union.

One of the things the EU has been responsible for is bringing equality, through individual governments, to the population of the EU regardless of age, colour, creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. There are those who would argue that it hasn't yet succeeded but certainly it has happened in many areas of our daily lives.

It started in a small way with pressure for equality in the workplace or, as it was succinctly put at the time, equal pay for equal work. This was a time when women were normally paid far less than men even if working alongside the men doing the same job. It was a difficult passage with employers managing to find many hidden differences in the work to justify the differential in pay. However, eventually it was (almost) achieved.

Over the years there have been many other instances of equality being brought about through the mechanism of the EU and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) leading up to the debating now of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

It seemed there was only 1 area of inequality left - the age at which a pension would be paid - but even that has gone now.

It all started back in 1986 when the pension age for a woman was 60 and for a man 65. It was, therefore, normal practice for women to be compulsorily retired at age 60 and men at age 65. However, a woman working for a Health Authority in the south of England was allowed to work past her 60th birthday and subsequently was compulsorily retired before her 65th birthday. She took exception to this and the case ended up with the ECJ who ruled that pension age and retirement age are not the same thing and that forcing this woman to retire at a younger age than a man was incompatible with equal treatment.

Following on this were a steady stream of cases highlighting areas of inequality. For example, a woman who gave up work to care for an invalid relative was not entitled to any kind of care allowance because housework and caring were considered to be part of her natural work. However, if a man had to give up work to care for an invalid he received an allowance. The ECJ ruled that this was incompatible with EU law. The British Government must have seen this coming because they changed the rules on the allowance just before the ECJ made its decision.

Another case involved a man aged over 60 receiving unemployment benefit. While receiving this benefit he started to receive his occupational pension (occupational pensions are private pensions and you can opt to receive them at an earlier age than the state pension). A corresponding amount was then deducted from his unemployment benefit. He argued that had he been a woman with a pension entitlement (pensions are an entitlement and not a benefit) from age 60 he would not have seen his pension reduced because his occupational pension was being paid and he would have been much better off.

It was becoming clear to the UK Government that they had to do something. They knew they were on a sticky wicket with the EU. They also knew that they would have problems in the future if they let things stay as they were because in the early days of pensions the money taken from employees towards this entitlement in old age was not invested. Rather, the money taken from today's workers was used to pay today's pensioners. At the start of the pension scheme it would be quite normal for a man to retire at age 65 and die within 3 to 4 years.

However, in a time of a mushrooming elderly population, people being healthier and living longer; some of the largest unemployment rates on record; and an ever diminishing number of jobs it was easy to see that this system would not be sustainable in the long term. Politicians of all persuasions knew they had to reduce the pension burden on the working population and the only way to do that would be to raise the pension age. But this would be a really 'hot potato'. Any attempt to raise the female pension age would be unpopular with at least 50% of the voters and all politicians like to keep their seats!

However, in May 1990 a protocol was inserted into the Maastricht Treaty which paved the way for equal pension ages for men and women. The British Government breathed a huge sigh of relief, settled down to do what had to be done to phase this in over a number of years and reduce the financial burden on the working population with the advantage that they could now blame it all on the EU.

Initially, they decided to bring the age for women up to 65 over a number of years and, once parity is reached, they will start to increase the pension age to 68 for everyone.

So, back to the point, we have to treat men and women equally - even when money is involved.

Therefore, I am all in favour of legalised polygamy. What we need to know, though, is whether this will be an open-ended polygamy (i.e. you can have as many spouses as you like) or a limited polygamy where the maximum number of spouses permitted at any one time is clearly stipulated in the legislation.

Once I have this information I will know how many husbands I will be allowed.

Yes, you read that correctly. I will know how many husbands I will be allowed.

We have to treat men and women equally in all things. Therefore, if polygamy is legal for men it also, by default, has to be legal for women. This equality is part of the joy of belonging to the EU!!!

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