Advocates of bigamy — who argue that anybody should be able to have more than one spouse — have just had a legal leg-up from the courts in a decision which has helped their cause.
A Federal Court judge has ruled that relationship status can be described in many ways. Apparently, one of those ways includes bigamy.
Egyptian man Mahmoud Mahdy Mahmoud Salama is a Muslim who was married to two women. When he completed his Australian visa application form, he didn’t tick all the boxes — because there weren’t enough “wife” boxes to tick.
When his visa was cancelled on the grounds of false information, he sued the government. And he backed a winner — the government now has to pay his costs.
The judge ruled it was a “jurisdictional error” to assume that when it comes to declaring one’s marital status — with a wife in one country and an ex in another — there is only one correct answer.
We have been playing around with the meaning of marriage for a long time. In 2004, the Howard Government enacted a legal definition of marriage: the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
The government said the aim of the law was “to reinforce the basis of this fundamental institution.” Even Penny Wong went through the “ayes” lobby when the Senate voted.
Since then, the meaning of marriage has been a political football. Same sex marriage is, of course, out of play — kicked into the long grass by sulking proponents of so-called “marriage equality.”
But the sands of marriage are still shifting beneath us. Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water, a new kind of marriage equality is being promoted — in the courts.
Polygamy, of course, is bigamy. And bigamy is unlawful. We know that polygamy finds favour with some people — such as some of the Australian Greens — who have no religious beliefs.
But a number of polygamy activists are religious; and many of them are Muslim. Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, is one keen proponent.
Back in 2009, Mr Trad called on the government to recognise polygamous marriages on religious and cultural grounds. He also said it would protect the rights of women.
Although polygamy is not legal in Australia, some Muslim clerics turn a blind eye and perform marriages below the lawful radar.
Centrelink also turns a blind eye because it already pays out generous welfare benefits to the wives of polygamous Muslim men.
Next there will be a push to legalise polygamous marriages on the grounds of cultural and religious sensitivity. We will be told that existing marriage law is “a barrier to true love”.
And we can expect those who oppose this push for bigamy — or polygamy, if you prefer — to be condemned as racists and bigots under 18C. What will the judges say then?