Denmark: Government to study polygamy

Karen Jespersen, Danish Minister of Welfare and Equality, wants to investigate how many bigamy cases there are in Denmark among the immigrant community. The move follows a news report about one of the Iraqi interpreters who had helped Danish forces in Iraq and had fled to Denmark with his two wives.

The man is 43 years old, is a Shia Muslim and comes from Basra in Southern Iraq. Since then he's been living in uncertainty, whether he would be forced to divorce one of his wives. He says he loves them both and that he does not want to part with them or with his children. Danish authorities have yet to decide what position to take on this issue. Polygamy is illegal in Denmark, but former cases have only dealt with a second marriage in Denmark.

The Iraqi interpreter was married in 1996 and in 2003. In Basra he lived with his two wives, each of which had a home. In the municipality in Jutland where they live now they also live in two different homes, about a kilometer apart.

His lawyer, Marianne Vølund, says that Family Services haven't had such a case before where somebody comes to Denmark already married to two wives. She thinks that a marriage is not illegal if it's been entered into in a country where it's legal.

His three brothers, two sisters, mother and father are back in Iraq. He writes and calls them, but they can't contact him, since if the militants in Iraq found out where he is, both his family in Denmark and in Iraq will be in danger. He says his brother had been threatened, to give information about him.

Jespersen says that this case is the most recent example of an attitude towards women that a group of reactionaries of immigrant backgrounds is trying to introduce into Denmark. This attitude is basically different from the Danish principles of equality, and they must now study it in order to stop it.

Garbi Schmidt of SFI (National Center for Social Research) says that there are cases in the immigrant community which involve one man and two or more women. She stresses, though, that this happens in very closed communities and is extremely limited.

Connie Carøe Christiansen, culture sociologist at the Roskilde University Center, adds that in some cases are in reality divorces in which people don't want to go through a judicial process since it means a reduction in the wife's status.

Jespersen says that it's not an issue of how many cases there are, but of the signal it sends that bigamy is accepted in Denmark. Schmidt disagrees and says that the people who practice polygamy are aware that it's illegal and do so anyway, and that it's a very small group.

The case of the Iraqi interpreter has brought about reactions from politicians.

The Danish People's Party (DPP) demands that a solution be found - that the interpreter be forced to divorce one of his wives if he wants to stay in Denmark. Peter Skaarup says that if this case is accepted, it will send a clear signal to Danish Muslims that it's ok to travel to Iraq to get married with two or three women and then come back to Denmark and ask for acceptance and economic support. The municipality where the interpreter lives is already financially helping both him and his two wives.

Line Barfod of the Red-Green Alliance says that there's larger problems for women's freedom than this case.

Jørgen Poulsen of Ny Alliance says that the interpreter has already seen that in Denmark a man can be married to more than one wife. Bigamy should be banned in the future, but it's important in this case to protect the three people whose lives were put in danger because of the Danes.

Henrik Dam Kristensen of the Social Democrats says that they'll speak to both women and see what they want. Divorce is an option, but only in such a way that both the man and women can live securely in Denmark.

Sources: KD 1, 2, 3 (Danish)

See also: Denmark: Asylum seeker with two wives, Denmark: Debate about polygamy, Polygamy in Europe

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