Iran’s New Family Law Promotes Polygamy

In 2008 Iranian lawmakers unsucessfully sought to allow registration of “temporary marriages”, also called “sigheh”, but were compelled to put the legislation on hold after sustained public clamour challenged the bill as destructive to Iranian families.

However, Iran’s Parliament has now passed their version of a compromise bill by enacting a new article in the 1975 Family Protection Act, which mandates the registration of “temporary marriages” where a child is born.

While called “temporary”, these marriages more properly fit the description of plural marriages. The stated purpose of this new law is to provide rights for women who occupy the role of a man’s second or third wife, and to protect children born of these relationships.

These marriages are not considered legal marriages but are contractual unions often with a time frame agreed to in advance.

Iran’s Cultural Commission tried to persuade Parliament that all temporary marriages should be registered, however, legislators determined in a vote of 104 to six, that such a wholesale registration would thwart the attractiveness of temporary marriage and interfere with the private lives of Iran’s male citizens.

Opposition leader Zahra Ranavard, former dean of Al-Zhara University and now under house arrest, decried the imposition of this change, denouncing the law as a threat to the institution of marriage in Iran.

Prior to the passing of this bill, an Iranian man could only take a second wife with the consent of his first wife. The new criteria ignores the sentiments of first wives and only stipulates that a polygamous husband show proof in court that he can support both wives.

Proponents say the concept of a temporary marriage suits the Iranian culture where sex before marriage is a criminal offence and non-virgins have little hope of entering into a legal marriage. As well, with a large part of Iranian’s population under the age of thirty, the registration of a temporary partner provides a solution for young people who wish to respect Iran’s laws on sexual activity.

However, most of Iran’s women’s organizations oppose the law saying that despite its goal of protecting women and their children, it further legitimizes polygamy in Iran, which is a violation of gender equality.

The point they make has merit because despite sharia law endorsing polygamy, today there are very few polygamous marriages in Iran. The government’s tacit endorsement of temporary marriage may reverse that trend leading to the disintegration of families.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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