Polygamy in Australia

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Polygamous marriages may not be performed in Australia, and the practice of polygamy is prohibited in the country.[1] A person who marries another person, knowing that the previous marriage is still subsisting, commits an offence of bigamy under section 94 of the Marriage Act 1961, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, and the second marriage is void.[2]

However, much like the situation in the United Kingdom, polygamous marriages conducted in jurisdictions that legally recognize and perform such unions may be legally valid in Australia for some purposes.[3][4] While the extent of benefits granted to a foreign polygamous marriage are unclear, benefits such as welfare are legally granted to each spouse and their children.[5] In addition, the polygamous marriage is recognized for the purpose of a spouse having access to the Family Court for divorce, property settlement and children issues.[6]

Legalisation status[edit]

There is a small community of polygamists in Australia who are working towards the removal of prejudice against multiple-partner relationships and ultimately to the legalisation of polyamorous marriage.[7] There was a float in the 2012 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras based on the theme "Queer Polyamory".[8]

There have been a handful of Islamic leaders, particularly Imams, who have pushed for the legislation of polygamous marriages in Australia,[9][10][11] which has stirred a controversial and emotional debate throughout the nation.[12][13] Proponents of polygamy have claimed that such legislation would "protect the rights of women,"[14] while opponents have claimed that it would "endanger the Australian way of life."[15]

In response to the intensifying debate, Australia's former Attorney General Robert McClelland remarked that "There is absolutely no way that the government will be recognising polygamist relationships. They are unlawful and they will remain as such. Under Australian law, marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Polygamous marriage necessarily offends this definition."[16]

See also[edit]