Churches fail to stop Kenyan president signing polygamy bill into law

(Photo: REUTERS / Noor Khamis)Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour as he arrives at the Parliament Building to deliver his state of the nation address in Nairobi March 27, 2014.

Shrugging off criticism from Christian groups and female lawmakers, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed a bill that legalizes polygamy and can allow men to marry as many wives as they want.

The Marriage Act 2014 matches civil law with customary law whereby some Kenyan cultures allow a man to have more than one wife.

An amendment included in the law that requires no consultation of prior wives before a man takes additional wives stirred controversy.

In March, female members of the Kenyan parliament stormed out of the law-making chamber in disgust as male members approved the amendment. Women's groups condemned the law.

The Daily Nation newspaper reported that Kenya's Federation of Women Lawyers plans to legally challenge the passing of the law.

A number of Kenya's 42 tribes do not limit the number a wives a man can marry as long as he is able to afford to do so.

Christian organizations that condemned the law before it passed include the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches of Kenya.

They had urged Kenyatta not to sign the bill.

Church leaders who opposed the law said hat it undermines Christian and family values, as well as equality between men and women.

Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki of the National Council of Churches in Kenya said the law "would be demeaning to women since it does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in the institution of marriage."

Christ is the Answer Ministries Bishop David Oginde had in March read a joint statement from a group of church leaders condemning the bill as a threat to the family unit.

"Let us give sober and informed decisions to family issues, and not attempt to weaken it ... The State is as solid as its families and so all laws should be made to strengthen, not weaken the family," said Oginde.

"How do you ensure faithfulness in polygamy? We submit that the fight against Aids is weakened by prevalence of polygamy," he said noting that it can lead to "multiple sex partners, thus leading to infection."Oginde said, "The Bible is clear that an ideal marriage is between one man and one woman."

The National Council of Churches of Kenya released a press statement condemning the proposed law before it passed.

"This executive committee is concerned that Parliament passed a faulty marriage bill into law ... We urge His Excellency the President not ascent to the bill until the offensive clauses are removed," the council said.

"The debates in the National Assembly [were] extremely demeaning to the women of our country, and the bill itself does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in marriage especially with regard to polygamy."

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