Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta officially signed into law a bill legalizing polygamy, giving men the right to marry numerous women without consulting their other brides. The bill has faced opposition by the country's Christian leaders, who criticize it for not respecting women or marriage.
"Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman, whether in a monogamous or polygamous union," Kenyatta said in a statement on Tuesday, AFP reported.
Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki, from the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), which represents more than 40 church and Christian organizations from across the east African nation,has said, however, that the tone of the bill is "demeaning to women since it does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in the institution of marriage."
Among the several provisions of the bill, men will be allowed to marry as many partners as they wish as long as long as they can afford it, and do not need to consult their other spouses, BBC News reported. Furthermore, the bill establishes that partners must be 18 or older to get married, and gives women 50 percent of property acquired during marriage.
While polygamy is banned across much of the rest of the world, it has legal status in several African and Middle East nations.
Female MPs reportedly "walked out in disgust" at a parliament session last month while the men voted through the amendment to the bill that allows them to marry other women without first consulting their brides.
The female MPs apparently said that such a provision would affect the entire family, including the financial position of other spouses.
The MPs did reject an amendment, however, which would have initially given women only 30 percent of matrimonial property after death or divorce.
The national Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) has said it will challenge the law in court.
"We know that men are afraid of women's tongues more than anything else, but at the end of the day if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party (and they may be two or three) I think it behooves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know," female legislator Soipan Tuya told fellow MPs when the bill was passed.
Ndambuki further added that polygamy goes against Christian teachings. According to the CIA Factbook, around 82.5 percent of the Kenyan population is said to be Christian.
Christ is the Answer Ministries Bishop David Oginde read a joint statement last week from numerous church leaders speaking out against the bill: "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."
"How do you ensure faithfulness in polygamy? We submit that the fight against AIDS is weakened by prevalence of polygamy, as the mpango wa kando can be practiced by the multiple sex partners, thus leading to infection," the statement said.