SBY defends plan on polygamy, calls for sensible debate
National News - December 08, 2006
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The government's plan to extend the ban on polygamy is being blown out of proportion by those who oppose it, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says.
Yudhoyono said the public debate that has raged since the government floated the idea last week had been derailed by critics using religious arguments.
He maintained the original purpose of revising the law was to protect women.
"Let us think clearly. We shouldn't exert too much energy on this issue because there are many other problems that have to be addressed. I don't want this issue to develop into an unhealthy public discourse," he said when addressing a Civil Servants Wives Association gathering.
The controversy was sparked Tuesday when the State Minister for Women's Empowerment Meutia Farida Hatta Swasono announced the government was considering extending ban on polygamy for civil servants to cover all officials working for the state, including legislators and soldiers.
The plan has received strong backing from progressive Muslims and many women but has met strong opposition from religious conservatives, especially men, who argue that polygamy is allowed in Islam and should not be banned by secular laws.
The polygamy issue resurfaced last week when television cleric Abdullah "A'a Gym" Gymnastiar, who was popular with women and promoted harmonious family values, announced he had taken a younger second wife.
Under the 1974 Marriage Law, men are only legally allowed to take a second wife if their first wives are invalids, terminally ill or infertile. The law, however, is rarely enforced and polygamy is becoming more common among Muslims.
President Susilo said people should not use religion to justify polygamy, as Islam required men to meet many strict conditions before they could take more than one wife.
"If people want to refer to religion (to justify polygamy), please understand the religion properly," Yudhoyono said.
Marriage laws were made by taking religious values into consideration, he said.
The President said he was also concerned that women here were often victims of domestic violence and street crime, he said.
There was an urgent need to protect women from violence, crime, poverty and other forms of misery, he said. The next step would be to empower women by fulfilling their basic right to enjoy adequate public services like health and education.
Minister Meutia said Thursday the revision of the law would depend on an analysis done by women's organizations, human rights groups and universities, which support a revision to the law.
"It is wrong to assume that polygamy would minimize cases of adultery and prostitution," she told The Jakarta Post.
Earlier this week, some legislators argued banning polygamy would only encourage more men to visit prostitutes.
"What we believe is that polygamy can lead to injustice and the psychological abuse of women," Meutia said.