May 9, 2014

Kenya’s New Polygamy Law Bad for Families, Christian Leaders Say

 ©2014 Religion News Service

Christian clergy fear that a new marriage law
signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 29 will tear families apart and
weaken the church and the nation.

The law legalizes polygamy, allowing men to marry
multiple wives in a country where they previously were permitted to have one.
Parliament passed the measure in March, after an amendment was added that
allows a man to take another wife without informing his existing wife.

Christian leaders said the law would dilute the
principle of holy matrimony. They had united to urge Kenyatta to reject the
law, but with the signing this week, the clerics expressed their frustration.

“We are very unhappy,” said the Rev. David
Gathanju, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. “Having met the
president over the bill, we didn’t expect him to sign it.If polygamy is allowed, it will open the
floodgates for all sorts of separations and divorces. That will surely hurt the
family institution and the country at large will suffer,” he added.

Under the new law there are five types of
marriages in Kenya: Christian, Islamic, Hindu, monogamous, and polygamous.
Kenya is predominantly Christian, with Muslims making up about 11 percent of its
population, mostly along the Somali border, its coastal region, and in cities
such as Mombasa.

“I think the law will cause more problems and
confusion than it would solve,” said Bishop Joseph Methu, leader of the
Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya. “We now
begin a journey to see how it can be amended. I don’t think it’s good for us.”

Muslim leaders backed the law, saying polygamy is
found in the Bible and in the Quran, so it’s not much of an issue.

“I commend the president. I don’t think this is
about faith since figures in the Bible were polygamous,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao,
the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council leader. “Those who can maintain more
wives should be able to marry.”

The law sets a minimum age of
marriage at 18. It also allows wives a 50 percent share of the property
acquired during the union, among other benefits.