Rampant Sex Discrimination in Saudi Arabia

_DSC4179 - Version 2To be born female in Saudi Arabia is to endure a life of discrimination…on many fronts. First of all, it is legal for men in Saudi to have up to four wives who may be as young as 10-years old, as long as they can afford to support them all. It is reported that polygamy is increasingly popular with younger generations, bolstered by their oil wealth.

Saudi women cannot leave their home unless they are escorted by a male guardian, usually their father, brother or husband. They cannot marry, divorce, travel, open a bank account, or consent to elective surgery, without the approval of their guardian. They also are not permitted to drive a vehicle and women who disregard this law have been subject to punishments like flogging.

Photos of Saudi women show them covered up with only their hands and eyes showing, a custom/law that is enforced by the “religious police”.

It was not until 2005 that women were entitled to vote or run for political office, and in 2008 they were finally allowed to initiate and engage in educational studies on their own.

Family law in Saudi Arabia is equally demeaning and restrictive. A woman who socializes with a man who is not a relative can be accused of adultery, fornication, or prostitution. Sex segregation is the norm, with special female entrances and sections in banks and other public institutions. Women must sit with other women when they dine in a restaurant. It is reported that men’s sections in restaurants are usually well-furnished and welcoming, while the women’s sections are sparse and uninviting.

Divorce laws are cruel and unjust. Men may divorce their spouses anytime they want for any reason or no reason at all, while women can only divorce if their husband consents, or they obtain a judicial divorce, but only if they can prove harm or injury during their marriage. Fathers obtain custody of all children over seven-years-old.

The only obligation a man has to his ex-wife is to provide financial support for a period of four months and ten days.

Two recent divorces in Saudi have gone viral in the west, because of their unusual capriciousness. In one case an arranged marriage, which is the norm, came to a sudden end, just after the couple were declared man and wife. The couple had not met prior to the wedding and the first time the groom saw his bride was when she lifted her veil at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Her groom was taken aback when he saw his new wife’s face and according to media reports said: ““You are not the girl I want to marry. You are not the one I had imagined. I am sorry, but I divorce you.” She immediately collapsed with tears and the marriage was over.

In the second case, a Saudi man text messaged his wife to inform her that he wanted a divorce, because she ignored his previous text messages.

According to a story from Gulf News, this couple were having marriage difficulties because the husband believed his wife spent too much time on her cell phone talking to her girlfriends and ignoring him. The last straw for him was his unanswered phone messages and text messages to his wife. He knew from the app on his phone that she had received and read the text message but had not bothered to reply.

It’s no wonder the divorce rate in Saudi is 50%, but with multiple wives I guess the loss of one is not a real hardship.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

TV’s Polygamous Family Challenges Utah Law

The constitutionality of polygamy has already been determined in British Columbia and now it’s coming before the courts of Utah, home base for the polygamous sect of the Mormon faith.

After their significant television exposure, the cast of Sister Wives, Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, Robyn and their seventeen children, received threats of prosecution from Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman. Just like in Canada, polygamy is a criminal offence in Utah.

While no charges were filed against the Brown family, they decided to take matters into their own hands and sued Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert and Attorney-General Mark Shurtleff, claiming that Utah’s law violates their constitutional rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The Court allowed their law suit to proceed, but ruled that the Governor and his Attorney-General must be removed as defendants because of the Attorney-General’s policy of not enforcing the polygamy law against consenting adult polygamists who are not committing other crimes.

That leaves prosecutor Jeffrey Buhman as the lone defendant, who made it clear in multiple media interviews, that he intends to prosecute the family, although the Court noted he has not yet done so. Judge Clark Waddoups also voiced his opinion on the Mr. Buhman’s strategy:

“The entirety of actions by the Utah County prosecutors tend to show either an ill-conceived
public relations campaign to showboat their own authority and/or harass the Browns and the
polygamous community at large or to assure the public that they intended to carry out their
public obligations and prosecute violations of the law.”

If the case unfolds as it did in British Columbia, the law against polygamy will survive, just like it did in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Kody and his family are now living in Las Vegas.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Looking Back: Blockbuster Family Law Cases From 2011

While Americans amused themselves with another spate of celebrity divorces, keeping Beverly Hills’ lawyers and gossip magazine editors salivating, Canadian judges were tackling blockbuster issues like polygamy, judicial ethics and anonymous sperm donors.

My top three family law stories in Canada in 2011 are:

1. Polygamy in Bountiful

Bountiful looks like any other idyllic southeastern town in British Columbia, particularly if that community consists of radical fundamentalist Mormons who practice polygamy. Their leader Winston Blackmore, linked to the infamous Warren Jeffs, is reputed to have 25 wives and 101 children.

Attorneys-General in B.C. had been concerned about what was going on in Bountiful for decades as rumours of sexual exploitation of minors, coercion and human trafficking surfaced. But legal opinions provided to the government by several of B.C.’s top legal minds convinced the government that religious freedom under Canada’s Charter of Rights would trump the illegal practice of multiple wives.

Finally, the government decided that the polygamy question had to be dealt with and in a groundbreaking decision in November 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court held that while religious freedom was infringed by the law against polygamy, it was justified to protect vulnerable women and children.

2. Canada’s Bondage Judge

Madam Justice Lori Douglas learned in 2011 that she would be the subject of a public judicial inquiry to determine her fitness to remain as Associate Chief Justice, Family Division of Manitoba’s Queens Bench. The story of the judge and her divorce lawyer husband, Jack King, was splashed online and in newspapers beginning in 2010 when a divorce client of her husband’s revealed that Mr. King had tried to arrange a sexual liaison between him and Judge Douglas several years earlier.

The unsavory events leading to the inquiry unravelled last fall when Madam Justice Lori Douglas stepped down from her post in the wake of a complaint from Alexander Chapman, age 45, originally from Trinidad, who retained Mr. King to act for him in his divorce proceedings in 2002.

At the time, Ms. Douglas and Mr. King were partners at a prestigious Winnipeg law firm. Mr. Chapman alleged that after Mr. King completed his divorce, King befriended him and tried to persuade Mr. Chapman to engage in a sexual tryst with his wife, Ms. Douglas.

Mr. King gave Mr. Chapman photographs of his wife and a password for an internet site called Darkcavern.com, that caters to those who have an interest in inter-racial sex. The pictures of Judge Douglas portrayed her nude, except for bondage regalia, and in other more explicit sexual acts

When Mr. Chapman complained to Mr. King’s law firm in 2003, King paid Mr. Chapman $25,000 in exchange for Chapman’s agreement not to sue him or the firm and to destroy the photos. King resigned from his firm after the payment was made.

Unfortunately for Judge Douglas, Mr. Chapman ignored his agreement to remain silent about the racy events and delivered the photos to the Law Society and the CBC. The inquiry promises to be both titillating and embarrassing, the question being: Can Judge Douglas survive this intrusion into her personal life and does it affect her professional duties?

3. Landmark Ban of Anonymous Sperm Donors

Men in British Columbia who might have altruistically donated sperm to an infertile or same-sex couple may wish to think twice in light of last year’s landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision, (Pratten v. British Columbia 2011 BCSC (656)) which banned the practice of anonymous sperm donation, a first in North America.

The possibility this new law will be adopted throughout Canada is far from remote, since the basis for the decision was that adopted children have the right to obtain information about their biological parents, but children born of artificial insemination do not. The court found the distinction was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The court’s decision in Pratten v. British Columbia refocuses the attention away from the rights of parents to avail themselves of reproductive technology, without consideration of the consequences for their offspring, to the recognition that children, whose biological fathers are sperm donors, have the right to know their biological heritage.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

I Do, I Do, I Do…You Can’t

Polygamy has jumped to the top of those issues that are considered interesting, but weird. You only have to turn to HBO’s dramatic series “ Big Love”, to get a taste of the controversial practice of plural wives in the fundamentalist Mormon community. If you change the channel to TLC, you’ll get a glimpse of the even stranger lives of the “Sister Wives”.

Many of us have also followed the legal travails of Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, who after two criminal trials in two States now languishes in prison for life, plus 20 years for the felony sexual assaults of two teenage girls. Notably, the jury deliberated for only 30 minutes before finding Jeffs’ guilty.

At the same time as Jeff’s legal woes unfolded, British Columbia’s polygamous colony in Bountiful was the subject of numerous investigations that resulted in the arrest of Bountiful leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler in 2009. Blackmore is believed to have 25 wives and 101 children.

Do you remember that it took three or four legal opinions from several of British Columbia’s top lawyers to figure out whether Blackstone and Oler could be convicted under the polygamy laws of Canada? The concern was that the law would be considered unconstitutional and Blackmore and Oler would walk. Someone finally said they could, and the show began.

After lengthy court proceedings and exhaustive analysis provided by a phalanx of lawyers—I counted 38, representing the governments of BC and Canada, and a raft of non-profit organizations, ranging from the BC Teacher’s Federation to REAL Women of Canada and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, the British Columbia Supreme Court delivered hundreds of pages of Reasons setting out the Court’s opinion.

What’s to consider you may ask? Polygamy is illegal and has always been illegal in the western world. Why would 38 lawyers waste their time debating the pros and cons of polygamy?

The answer is found in one word: the Charter. Yes, Canada’s very own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s legacies, invites all and sundry to assess and analyze our laws under the microscope of our constitutional freedoms, in this case freedom of religion, expression and association.

But first the Court examined the historical context of polygamy reviewing the phenomenon of multiple marriages around the world. Modern polygamy, we are told, found its roots in Greco-Roman society.

I’m sure you know that polygamy is practiced in Muslim communities, but did you also know that it has been practiced among North America’s First Nations groups and is favoured by Wiccans as well?

These polygamous communities engage in the practice as a result of their religious convictions. Muslims rely on the Qur’an, fundamentalist Mormons on the Book of Mormon and aboriginals and Wiccans on their own spiritual beliefs.

The Court recognized the legitimacy of religious freedoms and agreed the criminalization of polygamy interferes with those freedoms, but did not accept that freedom of expression or association were breached by the criminalization of polygamy.

But a finding of a breach of religious freedom was not enough for the law to be repealed. Neither was an infringement of the personal security of a participant in a polygamous union significant enough to oust the law. The fact you can go to jail for polygamy is just too bad.

The Court upheld the law of polygamy but allowed that children between the age of 12 and 17 should not be subject to the rigours of arrest and conviction for their involvement.

The Court determined that the harm to women and children including sexual exploitation, coercion, and pedophilia justified the law against polygamy.

Meanwhile, back in TV Land, Kody Brown, patriarch, father and husband of “Sister Wives” has fled Utah and moved to Las Vegas with his family to avoid possible charges of bigamy.

You only need to watch the show to understand why polygamy is still against the law.

Polygamy Ruling to be Released Tomorrow

Polygamy is probably not something that crosses your mind too often, but if you live in British Columbia, Utah, Arizona, Texas and a few other states in America, it is a simmering issue that has come to a boil in Canada.

Tomorrow the British Columbia Supreme Court will issue its ruling as to whether polygamy should be legalized in Canada.

Last November the British Columbia Supreme Court began proceedings intended to grapple with the law that criminalizes polygamy in Canada and has since 1890.

The case began when rumours and reports of sexual exploitation, coercion, and human trafficking in the small British Columbia community of Bountiful came to the attention of BC’s Attorney-General.

Bountiful is the home of Canada’s most high-profile fundamentalist Mormon community, a group that has links to the infamous Warren Jeffs, the leader and high priest of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints in the United States, who practice polygamy as part of their religion.

Jeffs has been the target of US authorities for some time and is presently serving a lengthy prison term for his role in the rape of an underage Mormon wife.

Bountiful’s leader is Winston Blackmore who is said to have 25 wives and 101 children. Blackmore married five of his wives when they were still children and it is this conduct that has attracted the attention of the BC government and feminist organizations across Canada.

Those in favour of maintaining polygamy as a criminal offence argue the law is vital to protect society’s vulnerable, in this case women and children.

Others say that Canadians don’t want a society that encourages multiple marriages with the social ills that follow. The family law issues alone are mind-boggling.

Those who support striking down the law say that it violates freedom of religion and freedom of association, both protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, a group whose members are involved in intimate relationships consisting of three or more consenting adults, line up with those who say the law must go. They take the position they ought to be free to love and live with whoever they choose and the law against polygamy has no place in their bedrooms.

The legal and moral issues arising from polygamy are sensitive and complex. The Court heard testimony from dozens of witnesses who will be directly affected by the outcome of the court proceedings.

What everyone agrees upon is that this case will undoubtedly end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

My prediction? The law against polygamy will stand and the criminal activities arising from the practice will be vigorously prosecuted, while the activities of consenting adults will remain unfettered.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang