Dr Zainab Naqvi

Polygamous Marriages in English Law – An Indifferent Approach?


In this paper I build a contextualised account of the legal framework around polygamous marriages celebrated in England drawing on critical postcolonial perspectives. I look at several key legal moments to show that responses to polygamy are complicated. I argue that this complicatedness is partly caused by the law’s indifference to its impacts on the lived experiences of those who practise this form of marriage. This is compounded by the law using the moral panic around polygamy in the past as a smokescreen to obscure the live issues people faced, mostly around being unable to get divorced. Divorce was a Christian concern and this evidences the dominance of Christian conceptions around marriage and protecting monogamy. To prevent polygamy or bigamy, marriage formalities were set out in the Anglican image whilst divorce remained highly restricted. Not much has changed since, and the indifference of the law is shown all the way through to today with the categorisation of religious-only marriages as non-marriages or non-qualifying ceremonies. These ceremonies which permit polygamy to happen informally are othered and dismissed as they are placed at the bottom of the religious hierarchy of marriage in English law. There has been little progression in legal responses towards polygamous marriage for centuries: the law is outdated and fails to consider the real lived experiences of polygamous spouses.


Zainab completed her LL.B (Law and French) at Coventry University in 2012, her LL.M (General) with Distinction at the University of Birmingham Law School in 2013 and remained at Birmingham as an ESRC DTC Doctoral Researcher. Her research interests are focussed on judicial and legal responses to minoritised communities and practices in the UK including forms of non-normative marriage. Zainab was appointed as a full-time Lecturer in Law at Coventry University in 2017 following the completion of her doctorate and has now joined Leicester De Montfort Law School as a Senior Lecturer in Law. Zainab has also been appointed to the Decolonising DMU project as a Fair Outcomes Champion and is a coordinating editor for the international peer-review journal Feminist Legal Studies.