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Indonesia: Defense Ministry Circulates Polygamy Rules

(Aug. 12, 2015) As of July 22, 2015, Indonesia’s Defense Ministry has explicitly allowed employees to enter into polygamous marriages. (Defense Ministry Permits Polygamy, JAKARTA POST (Aug. 7, 2015).) Such marriages are legal in Indonesia in limited circumstances under the Marriage Law. That Law states, “(1) [i]n principle, a man may be married to one woman only. A woman shall be married to only one man. (2) The Court may permit a husband to have more than one wife, if the parties concerned so wish. (Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 1 of the Year 1974 on Marriage, art. 3, §§ 1 & 2, SCRIBD; Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 1 Tahun 1974 Tentang Perkawinan (Jan. 2, 1974), Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs website.)

A letter recently circulated by Brigadier General Jundan Eko Bintoro and signed by the Ministry’s Secretary-General, Brigadier General Sumardi, stated the Defense Ministry policy. It contains the Ministry’s regulations covering both marriage and divorce and states that male civilian employees may have multiple wives, but that female workers are limited to one husband. (Defense Ministry Permits Polygamy, supra.)

The rules include the requirements that the employee may only have additional wives if it is not forbidden under his religion; if he can support an additional spouse, as proven by his tax records; and if his situation meets one of these criteria: 1) his first wife is no longer able to fulfill her marital duties, 2) she has an acute illness or physical disability, or 3) she cannot have children. Furthermore, the husband must obtain the consent of his first wife, in writing, in order to proceed, and must promise, again in writing, to treat his family fairly. According to Bintoro, “[i]f any violation of these rules are to be found, we will investigate – he can be fired.” (Id.)

Challenges to the Marriage Law

The Law has been challenged in court on a number of issues, including polygamy. In 2007, a man from South Jakarta asserted that the restrictions in the Law on the situations in which polygamy is permitted, including the requirements that a court approve the arrangement and that all the parties consent, represented an infringement on his freedom of religion, because Islam permits polygamy. He asserted that “[t]he Marriage Act is based on monogamy. In Indonesia there are many religions and for other religions maybe the law is suitable. But for Islam it is not.” (Marriage Laws, INDONESIA MATTERS (May 11-Oct. 3, 2007).) On October 3, 2007, the Constitutional Court turned down the plaintiff’s challenge and upheld the provisions of the Law, stating that the restrictions on polygamy did not violate either Indonesian or Islamic law. (Id.)

This year, the Constitutional Court rejected two additional challenges to the Law, on the difference in the minimum age for marriage between men and women and on clarification of the language on interfaith marriages. (Kelly Buchanan, Indonesia: Court Rejects Two Challenges to Marriage Act, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 25, 2015).)