President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has signed into law a controversial marriage bill to legalise polygamy.
The new law amends a civil law, where a man was only allowed one wife and brings it in line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.
Controversy had surrounded an amendment to the bill, supported by many male lawmakers, allowing men to take more wives without consulting existing spouses, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Under the traditional law, first wives are supposed to give prior approval before a man takes another wife, the report says.
But last month, female lawmakers walked out of the country’s parliament in disgust after their male counterparts voted through the amendment.
They argued that a decision to take on another wife would affect the whole family, including the financial position of other spouses.
The controversial bill was also opposed by Christian leaders who urged Mr. Kenyatta, also a Christian not to sign it into law.
They argued that the amendment would undermine Christian principles of marriage and family.
“The tone of that bill, if it becomes law, would be demeaning to women since it does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in the institution of marriage,” the BBC quoted Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki, as saying.
Mr. Ndambuki belongs to the National Council of Churches of Kenya, NCCK.
The marriage legislation has been under discussion for several years and some initial proposals were scrapped at committee stages.
It has abolished the practice of unofficial traditional marriages which were never registered and could be ended without any legal divorce proceedings.
But plans to ban the payment of bride prices were dropped – although a person must be 18 to marry and this now applies to all cultures.
However, the lawmakers are said to have rejected the amendment which provided that a woman should only be entitled to 30 percent of matrimonial property after death or divorce.
Under the new law, equal property and inheritance rights are guaranteed against the previous law where a woman had to prove her contribution to the couple’s wealth.
The law stipulates that a wife is entitled to an equal share of whatever the couple acquired during their marriage but in the case of multiple partners, it is going to be difficult to determine what each spouse is entitled to if one of them divorces or their husband dies, argued BBC reporter Frenny Jowi.
There had also been a proposal to recognise co-habiting couples, known in Kenya as “come-we-stay” relationships, after six months, but this too was dropped.
It would have allowed a woman to seek maintenance for herself and any children of the union had the man left.