Although it’s outlawed, polygamy is still practiced informally in Australia. Having more than one spouse is a long-standing and legitimate cultural norm in some Indigenous Australian, African and religious communities.
This week Insight speaks to people from diverse backgrounds about life in a polygamous relationship and the benefits and challenges of sharing a spouse. What it’s like for children growing up in those households? How do spouses negotiate jealousy? And why is polygamy against the law?
Producer: Meggie Palmer
Associate Producers: Kym Middleton and Sarah Allely
Although it’s outlawed, polygamy is still practiced informally in Australia. Having more than one spouse is a long-standing and legitimate cultural norm in some Indigenous Australian, African and religious communities.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I'm Jenny Brockie and welcome to you all.
Good to have you here and Marc, Belle and Dorothy, welcome to you,
let's have a look at your story.
Marc, Belle and Dorothy’s Story:
MARC GLASBY: I’m a bit boring really, because our lives are just like anybody else’s - the usual chores and shopping, gardening – not really anything out of the ordinary apart from just the rather odd fact that I have two partners not one.
BELLE GLASBY: It’s our love that keeps the three of us strong, he means everything to me and I’m not looking for any other man.
DOROTHY LOADER: Belle and I, when we go out, we tell them that we are both Marc’s wives.
MARC GLASBY: The way we have worked things out is that there is two separate relationships here, there is no three way – odd things in bed going on – they are sisters after all and that would be a bit too weird. So it is just like two husband and wife relationships with the obvious difference is, there is only one husband. So yes I spend one night with Dorothy and one night with Belle. And that just seems to work.
DOROTHY LOADER: We kiss each other good night and whoever Marc is with – he goes to that room.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so Marc, who are you legally married to?
MARC GLASBY: I'm legally married to Belle.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you and Belle met at university?
MARC GLASBY: Yes, correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how long had you been married before Dorothy came on the scene?
MARC GLASBY: 27 years.
JENNY BROCKIE: And was that monogamous relationship?
MARC GLASBY: Oh completely, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And Belle, you'd been separated at birth from Dorothy so you were both adopted out?
BELLE GLASBY: Yes, and to different families.
JENNY BROCKIE: And so you wanted to find her. How long had you been looking for her?
BELLE GLASBY: Well, I think when I was about 30 years old I applied to the Malaysian Registry of Births and Deaths and asked for my adoption certificates and my birth certificates and I said I have a twin as well so could you send me hers too and that's when I got her details of her adoptive family as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: So after years of looking, you're married to Marc, you'd been married to Marc for a long time and after years of looking you were reunited with her with the help of the ABC. Let's have a look at how that happened.
PRESENTER: So we found them, Dorothy has landed and we will reunite them in a few minutes.
DOROTHY LOADER: it’s a dream come true.
BELLE GLASBY: Yes, it’s more than I could ever hope for. I found that she and I were so much alike in tastes, hobbies, physical traits and now that I found her, we know that we would not die lonely. There is a future out there with her and that we have got family and that our lives will now change for the better.
JENNY BROCKIE: So that's how long ago, a few years ago?
BELLE GLASBY: Yes, in September 2008.
JENNY BROCKIE: So Marc, how long after these two were reunited did you start feeling attracted to your wife's twin sister?
MARC GLASBY: It happened remarkably quickly actually. I kept a diary for many years and one of the things I noted going back reading through it, it took about 15 days for me to realise there was something going on in my head that at the time I just didn't understand.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think you were feeling those things? Was it because she's just like your wife?
MARC GLASBY: Not just that. It's more than a physical thing - it's more than looking at someone who looks similar. It goes much deeper. People talk about soul mates and I guess that's the level it goes to. It's, it's a very deep emotional bond between people that develops.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're saying 15 days when you go back through the diaries you were starting to have those feelings that early on?
MARC GLASBY: Mm-mmm.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dorothy, were you having these feelings? Were you reacting the same way?
DOROTHY LOADER: Not at the beginning.
JENNY BROCKIE: You were married, yes?
DOROTHY LOADER: Yes, I was married, I was married but my marriage was actually sort of on the rocks at the time when I met Belle and Marc. It was not going well for the past few years in fact.
JENNY BROCKIE: So when he told you he felt this way, how did you react?
DOROTHY LOADER: I suppose my first response, I thought it wasn't possible. That maybe he was feeling this way because he took pity on me.
JENNY BROCKIE: So Marc, how did you break it to your wife Belle that you were in love with her identical twin sister, just after this reunion had taken place?
MARC GLASBY: There didn't really a simple answer to that one. I guess in the end it was just I had to say something about what was going on in my head and in the end I did say to Belle I think I'm starting to have feelings for Dorothy like I feel for you and we discussed it I think over a period before two weeks before we worked out how we were going to go. What we had to do initially was make sure that Dorothy's marriage was unsalvageable and we did put quite a bit into talking about that with Dorothy to start off with and she did try to reconnect with her husband, it didn't work, and in the end we ended up in the situation we are now.
JENNY BROCKIE: Belle, after 28 years of marriage what was it like to hear your husband tell you that he was falling in love with your twin sister?
BELLE GLASBY: It was a bit of a surprise but I could understand it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
BELLE GLASBY: Because she's me. I mean when Marc fell in love with me we were, we fell so deeply in love with each other so it's, it just seemed obvious that he sees another me, his heart would fall the same way for her.
JENNY BROCKIE: So there was no resistance from you? Did you"¦.
BELLE GLASBY: Well it's because I could understand it. And I felt that it was very unfair that I could have such a loving marriage and hers not be the same. So when Marc said he was falling in love with her and when we knew we couldn't salvage her marriage, all I said to Marc is well go tell her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you knew what you were getting yourself into at that point?
BELLE GLASBY: I have to be honest and I say I did not know what I was getting into.
JENNY BROCKIE: In what way?
BELLE GLASBY: Because I'm very young at heart and a bit naÃ¯ve and I thought well, he'll say oh, I love you and she'll say and I love you back and we'll all love each other and happy families and I didn't, I didn't look into it further. It didn't go beyond that.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of things surprised you about it that you hadn't expected? I mean did you feel jealous? Did you"¦.
BELLE GLASBY: Yes, that's what I went through.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how long did you go through that? Are you still going through that to some extent?
BELLE GLASBY: No, I'm not because Marc assured me that he loves me must as much and there would be no discrepancies between his love between the two of us and he would never leave us. He said unless one of us left him, he would never leave either of us.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm going to talk about some other examples of polygamy in a moment but before I do, Peter Richardson in Sacramento, I wanted to have a chat with you about this because you've studied polygamy. I wonder if you can tell us how common it is worldwide as a phenomenon?
PETER RICHARDSON, CULTURAL EVOLUTIONIST: Well about 85 percent of societies that Anthropologists have studied over the years at least permit polygamous marriage, like Marc and Belle and Dorothy's marriage, for special circumstances and many societies, it's a favourite form of marriage - So at least permissible and favoured in many societies, most societies.
JENNY BROCKIE: And I understand you've taken an interest in polygamy in Australia?
PETER RICHARDSON: Yes. Well the Australian native people are interesting to Anthropologists because most hunting and gathering people may permit polygamy, but in fact very few marriages are polygamous because it's hard for men to support more than one wife and there's a big egalitarian ethos in most hunting and gathering societies that Anthropologists have studied.
And Australia's a conspicuous exception, there are lots of societies in Australia apparently with fairly high rates of polygamy and there was - old men ruled the societies and used religious prohibitions to prevent young men from marrying. They had to be inducted into several religious rituals before they were candidates for marriage and they were not candidates for marriage then until they were oh, in their late 20s, early 30s. So that's a very unusual system particularly to be widespread.
JENNY BROCKIE: Recently we went to Yeerkulla in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and we spoke to one senior woman in the community there about polygamy.
Arnhem Land Story:
DHALULU GANAMBARR-STUBBS: Traditionally, a man has more than one wife – he has three or four wives. I don’t have that feeling of shame if I talk about my dad having seven wives. It is not shameful at all, you know. It was the way of living. My youngest mum is almost the same age as me, she is about five years older than me - you know what I mean? And we grew up together – all the mums are treated as equally, as kids equally – loved us equally.
Actually I was counting it with my dad when he was still alive. He would count the mum and then how many kids she had, and so on. And then I would say 'What about this person", you know 'What about"¦" and then name my brother or my sister and he would go 'Oh yes, I forgot" cause there are so many of us. There is about thirty five of us. It was a good thing – it can be a good thing you know, to live with this big family. To tell you the truth, I never really saw any negatives, if you all go together to get something, you have more of this yam, more of the oysters, more nuts"¦ there’s more than if there was just five in a family.
REPORTER: Your husband only has you, would you be happy to have someone else in the family, in your family?
DHALULU GANAMBARR-STUBBS: No, because he is not a Yulla man, he is a non-indigenous person.
REPORTER: So it’s specifically for traditional persons.
DHALULU GANAMBARR-STUBBS: Yeah. Having those seven mothers always there for you and one dad – a very strong powerful dad, having the values that I got from each one of those women – to get that knowledge from them is who I am, what I’m made of.
JENNY BROCKIE: Witiyana, you're from that community. How many wives do you have?
WITIYANA MARIKA: I've got two wives.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is it important for a man in the community to have more than one wife?
WITIYANA MARIKA: Important because of the honour, the honouring from the tribe, the clan that the man has done over the years to leading a ceremony and important things. So it's an honour.
JENNY BROCKIE: So do you get more respect the more wives you have?
WITIYANA MARIKA: More respect.
JENNY BROCKIE: So do you want more than two wives?
WITIYANA MARIKA: I have, I would.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long were you with your first wife before you got the second one?
WITIYANA MARIKA: Twelve years, twelve years and then Nayarri is now coming up 11.
JENNY BROCKIE: And Nayarri, you're the second wife?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how do you feel about the idea of him getting more wives?
NAYARRI MARIKA: I would happy with it. In our culture she would be my sister.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what is it like for you as a woman? I mean do you sometimes disagree with the other wife?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Disagree, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you deal with those things?
NAYARRI MARIKA: With his first wife I used to jealous her.
JENNY BROCKIE: You used to feel jealous?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Jealous, yeah, doesn't like to be with her, staying with her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you like to be an only wife? Would you like to be his only wife?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yeah, I would.
JENNY BROCKIE: You would? That's interesting.
WITIYANA MARIKA: That's influenced by white society, you know?
JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah.
WITIYANA MARIKA: But our society, Yeerkulla society is based on the culture.
JENNY BROCKIE: And the tradition?
WITIYANA MARIKA: And tradition.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is that tradition changing or is it staying the same?
NAYARRI MARIKA: No, still the same.
WITIYANA MARIKA: Still the same, it is still a strong culture.
JENNY BROCKIE: So were you married under tribal law?
WITIYANA MARIKA: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: So are you married under white fellow’s law as well to one of your wives, no?
WITIYANA MARIKA: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Just under tribal law to both of them?
WITIYANA MARIKA: Yes, Yeerkulla law.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tony, you grew up in a Christian family in Sierra Leone and your dad had two wives there, is that right? What about family members here, have they got more than one wife?
TONY KAMARA: Well there's a few actually who are more than one and not just family members but also people within that Sierra Leone community that have more than one wife or more than one partner and it's absolutely accepted within that Sierra Leone community.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now these are wives in what sense? Because you can't marry, legally marry more than one person in Australia?
TONY KAMARA: That's right, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how does it work?
TONY KAMARA: Legally you can't marry but there are other recognised forms of marriage you know, you have traditional weddings which are absolutely recognised and you have the religious reasons, the people who are practicing polygamy, that's an acceptable form of marriage.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about other people in the room, do you know of situations where people are in polygamous marriages, how common? Yes?
HAN: Yes, is a family friend and he's got three wives and lives in separate residences. And he basically is like a normal family, he splits his time with the three of them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Anyone else? Yes?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: I've got family in Lebanon whose, she shares her husband with his other wife. He was married for a long time and they couldn't have kids so he told his wife that he wishes to have children and she sought a wife, an appropriate wife for him and they all live together in one apartment and the second wife had about three children.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is very interesting because a lot of people watching this are going to be very surprised to hear how common these situations are. Yes?
TONY KAMARA: I suppose it's one of the reasons as well like back home where polygamy is common, it's one of the reasons why people tend to marry more than one wife, because in instances where say the first wife is not able to have a kid and they didn't have the opportunity for surrogate mum or you know, having IVF and all that so they allow the man to get a second wife and then have kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes?
MAN: I think polygamy causes problems within the family because I have a friend, he's Syrian background and he's, his father has two wives. So they used to live together but then there used to be some like arguments and problems with the family and his father grew more partial towards his first wife and towards his second wife, who's my friend's mother, he was being abusive and also towards the son and that had led to a lot of domestic issues.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think that's a problem of polygamy though or just a problem that would happen anyway?
MAN: No, I think it's to do with polygamy in a way in that meaning that he doesn't look after both his wives. He treats, he doesn't like share his love to both of them and there's like feeling of neglect and a also it doesn't seem normal for the child as well because the child feels that he hates his own stepmother.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tony, you're nodding your head about this, why?
TONY KAMARA: Yeah, I can't see where he's coming from which is one of the down sides to polygamy because if you look at it, like the dad is not there most of the time to play his fatherly role when you want them. And there's a point where he's trying to be at both places at the same time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is this what happened to you as a child?
TONY KAMARA: Pretty much, yeah, in a polygamous household the dad is always away, you know, trying to battle both houses and if he tends to focus on one household, the kids coming up from the second household, they don't have that fatherly figure around to actually control them and play his role and maintain law and order and that kind of thing. Those kids get neglected and they just, you know, get out of hand.
JENNY BROCKIE: Fatimah, what did you want to say?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: That's why, you know, in Islam it's allowed but with very strict conditions. I mean a man to be able to do it, it's a huge responsibility on him. He has to treat them both equally, has to spend equally at both places, treat the children the same. His fortune needs to be split equally between the two. If he follows"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: But is that possible to be absolutely equal?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: Yes, yes, you can you split your time equally between the children. I mean if they're the same ages you can. He can with the wives - you know one day here and one day there.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can you split your time equally Marc between the two?
MARC GLASBY: There's one thing you've got to be very mindful of and it's something I personally have to keep a check on to make sure the balance is there. The girls will actually keep me in check as well because if one starts to feel a little bit"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Sort of raised eyebrows.
MARC GLASBY: If one starts to feel a little neglected they'll let me know. But it is something that, it's a job, you've got to keep on top of it.
JENNY BROCKIE: But how can you do that emotionally, sexually, how can be absolutely fair, totally equal to both parties when they're two different individuals?
MARC GLASBY: I don't think --
JENNY BROCKIE: Even if they're identical twins?
MARC GLASBY: I don't think you can be 100 percent the same with each one because they're both slightly different, although they're identical twins, they've got slightly different personalities, different things they like, that sort of thing. There's things that Dorothy and I will do together that Belle's not interested in, photography and things like that.
Other things that Belle enjoys doing with me that Dorothy's not interested so you split it up in different ways but you do have to be very mindful that you don't put one in front of the other and of course Belle's always going to have the sort of slight feeling well I was here first sort of thing so you've got to maintain it. There's a"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have that feeling that you were there first?
BELLE GLASBY: Yes, of course after 27 years.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, it's a long time. And how do you feel about that Dorothy, about her having that 27, 28 years?
DOROTHY LOADER: I have no jealousy between Belle and Marc or whatever they're doing, for me I don't feel jealous at all. I'm quite happy, I'm in fact, I feel very"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: How often would you pull him up though on you're spending more time with her than you are with me?
DOROTHY LOADER: No, no, I don't.
JENNY BROCKIE: No?
DOROTHY LOADER: No.
MARC GLASBY: There's one thing she does pull me up on, that's if I don't treat Belle properly as she thinks I should treat her.
DOROTHY LOADER: Yeah.
MARC GLASBY: She'll definitely keep me in line for that and one of the arguments against these sort of relationships that I've heard from people is that the man has the power. No they don't, the power shifts. The power definitely shifts and especially because they're twins they keep me in line pretty well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who has the power in this relationship? Where is the power?
DOROTHY LOADER: I don't know.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is anyone going to fess up to having any power here?
DOROTHY LOADER: I don't think it's me anyway.
JENNY BROCKIE: Eman, I wanted talk to you because you work with migrant women from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds every day. Now how common is polygamy first of all in Australia?
EMAN SHAROBEEM, IMMIGRANT WOMEN’S HEALTH SERVICE: Very common.
JENNY BROCKIE: Very common?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: Very common.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of stories do you hear then from those sort of women you see every day? Is it working? Is it not working for them? What are the stories?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: I see only women who are troubled by it so they're not going to come and tell me their happy stories, they will come with their sad or agony or jealousy or lack of justice or lack of knowledge and lack of CentreLink rights, their rights in the system, their rights with immigration, their rights in regards to their children and in the law in Australia in general.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it talked about openly? We found it quite difficult getting people to come and talk on this show about their direct experience of polygamy. I mean Marc and Belle and Dorothy are an exception, they're quite happy to talk about it publicly. But in general people aren't.
EMAN SHAROBEEM: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So is their shame associated with it?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: It's considered as a cultural issue, as a religious issue, as an issue to be talked about within the community but whenever you say: Can you talk to the TV? And I tried many times with my clients, it's no, it's not encouraged.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's because the dominant culture here, you know, lauds monogamy and says monogamy is the model of a marriage and the law does too, it says that monogamy is the model of a marriage?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: That's right, yes, that's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you talk openly about it? I mean how have people reacted to your situation?
MARC GLASBY: Surprisingly well. We've had one or two based on religious grounds who have dropped out of our circle of friends, that's their choice, but in general most of our friends are quite accepting of it.
JENNY BROCKIE: And when you say on religious grounds, what, Christian grounds?
MARC GLASBY: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: You two are Christian though, yes? So how do you reconcile that with your faith?
BELLE GLASBY: I feel - I feel I'm a good Christian because I'm doing, when I was a child, love was the main thing. That's what I learnt from Sunday school anyway, Jesus said love, love conquers all and if love is there you're doing no wrong. I gave my husband and I, we love each other very strongly and I love my sister very strongly and we all three of us, we love each other. So I have no, no qualms about what I've done. I was able to give happiness to both of them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, questions, comments?
WOMAN: I have a question for Belle. If she were not your sister, would you be okay with another woman coming in?
BELLE GLASBY: No, the only reason this was able to happen is because she is my identical twin, if she was just a blood sister - no.
MARC GLASBY: If I could just interrupt, I don't think I would have felt this way for anybody else. I'd never strayed, never even looked at another woman. I was not interested, I was perfectly happy the way I was, but when I met Dorothy the same things that happened with Belle happened in my head and it all just fell into place.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is sounding spooky.
MARC GLASBY: It is odd, it is odd.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and, and have you strayed since, if you don't mind me asking? I mean has it, has it made you, you know, more inclined to want other women?
MARC GLASBY: No, not at all. No, no, I would never dream of it this is as far as my interest goes.
JENNY BROCKIE: You mention polygamy to some people and there's instance disapproval. I wonder you how all feel about polygamy versus an affair or a mistress, how do you view it? Yeah, Bianca?
BIANCA: Polygamy is much better than an affair because it's open, it's honest, whereas an affair is hidden. If there is any sort of respect in any relationship, any form of trust, there has to be some form of honesty and therefore polygamy is just, it's just that much better.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do other people feel about that? Do we accept affairs more than we accept polygamy and is that, sorry, Fatimah?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: Socially, yes, it is more acceptable. Everyone frowns upon polygamy and you know second wives and that, but you know, mistresses do exist and it's very widespread and men are very likely to cheat on their wife. So I would rather.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you say that? Why do you say that men are very likely to cheat?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: But that's, that's how men were created, they're weak and they"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: They're weak?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: They are weak, most men, if not all.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why, if not all. Why are you saying that? Are you saying that from personal experience?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: No, I'm just saying maybe that's why also one of the reasons why Islam permits a man to have multiple wives.
JENNY BROCKIE: Farhan?
FARHAN ARIF: I strongly disagree to that motion that God would allow men to marry more than one just because men are more inclined to cheat or to have more than one sexual partner.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes? Hela, what did you want to say?
HELA JAFFAR: I want to say, I wonder how many men had some kind of relationship with their second wife before marrying her?
JENNY BROCKIE: So are you suggesting that it's being used as an excuse for cheating almost?
HELA JAFFAR: Yes, and then they decide to marry. So first they cheat and then they decide okay, you know, I'll marry this person or that person, I'm not happy in my marriage or let's have a second one.
JENNY BROCKIE: Other questions or comments, yes down the front?
MAN: I'm just wondering when you talk about polygamy, it's mostly like one man and multiple wives, what about the other way around? Like arguments involving bigger family, better for the kids, wouldn't it also apply when you say let's say a workaholic dad and he has a kid with his wife and then the kids like neglected. So is it wrong for the wife to then find a more stay at home dad, marry him and provide the son who, you know, a stronger father figure?
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Marc, how could you feel about them getting other husbands?
MARC GLASBY: We have actually discussed this and my view of love is basically what you do for your partner is the things that make them happy. So if that's what they wanted in life, thankfully they don't I guess, it would complicate the situation even more.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well do you, would you like to have other husbands?
MARC GLASBY: No, they have no interest.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dorothy?
DOROTHY LOADER: Well before Marc came along, even though my marriage was in shams and I'd been married 24 years, I haven't seen any other man. I had no eye for any other man - that was it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Witiyana, what about women having lots of husbands, would that be okay?
WITIYANA MARIKA: Well, not the age elders, elderly now, but young certainly, they can have lots of men.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you'd be happy for Nayarri to have other husbands?
WITIYANA MARIKA: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: No? Nayarri, what do you think about the idea of women having a lot of husbands? Would that be acceptable?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yeah, we do"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would that be okay? Would you feel okay about that?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yes, yes, if he would left me.
JENNY BROCKIE: If you would let you?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you would let you?
NAYARRI MARIKA: Yeah, I think so.
JENNY BROCKIE: I think she might be asking. But in your culture would it be acceptable or would that be not good?
Peter, I just want to ask you how common is it for women to take multiple husbands if other cultures, in different cultures?
PETER RICHARDSON: It's a very rare pattern. There are plural marriages in Tibet with multiple husbands of a single wife but again, it's very rare in the world societies.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think that is?
PETER RICHARDSON: The way biologists think about it, men get a lot out of having multiple wives, they can have many, many children, but a woman’s ability to have children is fairly strictly limited to, well in extreme cases women sometimes have as many as 20 children but even in the most fecund populations the average is closer to seven or eight, a man with multiple wives could have 50.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Fatimah, what do you think about women having multiple husbands?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: Well I thought it got to do the way our religion states for us, it’s not allowed. It’s too confusing, if a woman has – well it’s beneath women to have multiple men as partners and children – if a couple of men fertilize one child – who does that child belong to and that can create problems in the future for the lineage of the children. Who is going to take responsibility of the children?
JENNY BROCKIE: Imran?
IMAM IMRAAN HUSSEIN, GOLD COAST MOSQUE: Polygamy is allowed in Islam but polyandry, which is a woman having multiple husbands, that's not allowed
because firstly is that how do you identify whose child it is. But also women don't want to be become an infant factory because each husband he wants, he wants
children. So if a woman gives birth, then she's got to, before she can even have time to recover and get back to her strength, another husband wants a child. And so it is not practical.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it's mostly about biology, is it?
IMAM IMRAAN HUSSEIN: It's a psychological thing as well, men can handle four women but women cannot handle four men.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, who wants to comment on that? You're going to have to take a bit of heat I think on that. Yes?
WOMAN: With connecting religion and polygamy at the same time, at the time when"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Well not just religion, it's culture broadly.
WOMAN: With Fatimah and Imraan, so we have to analyse how polygamy came about in the first place. For example, in Islam, right, it was a different society then, women were being bought and sold, they don't have the power they have these days.
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: Polygamy existed before Islam.
WOMAN: Exactly. Islam brought it all in order by saying you're limited to four women.
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: When Islam came, they just reduced, God reduced it to four.
WOMAN: Precisely, and how many years ago was that? Precisely my point - So polygamy came about to control a wilder society than a polygamous society and now we've moved on hundreds and now thousands of years, not thousands, hundreds of years now away from that model. We don't even need polygamy any more. Leave alone polygamy vice versa.
JENNY BROCKIE: Farhan, what did you want to say?
FARHAN ARIF: Yes, just to emphasise on how we're saying that the Koran allows and mentions polygamy and it does, yes, in verse 3 of the 4th chapter it does say marry one or two or three or four. But just before that is the condition and that condition is actually the looking after of the interests of the orphans.
JENNY BROCKIE: Imraan, is that you understand as well?
IMAM IMRAAN HUSSEIN: His quotation is correct - we have to look at the historical background of that verse because that verse came down after many, many soldiers
were killed in the battle. So it left many women who were widows and also children that were orphans. So the whole historical background and Islam giving permission was basically for the caring of the widows and the orphans.
JENNY BROCKIE: If it was established though historically that way, is it still relevant do you think?
IMAM IMRAAN HUSSEIN: Yes, it's still relevant.
JENNY BROCKIE: No, let him finish. Let him finish.
FEMALE: How many widows of the Iraq war and the troops?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: They don't have welfare.
EMAN SHAROBEEM: Why is it relevant in Australia where we have social security and the government is paying for everybody?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: It's not only about financial means.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you want to say?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: What I want to say is it's not relevant to us here in Australia because we have the wonderful CentreLink which pays for everybody.
JENNY BROCKIE: Fatimah, what did you want to say?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: It's not only financial, it's security, it's having a man. It's when you need something, when you"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: Fatimah, would you, are you in a polygamous marriage?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you be in a polygamous marriage?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: If I was in love with my husband a lot and he was so good to me and he had very strong desires that I couldn't fulfil, or I was sick and you know, a man has desires, then maybe I would. If the lady was good.
JENNY BROCKIE: But hang on a minute, but that's actually interesting because that's placing a lot of conditions on the situation. So instinctively you wouldn't like to be in a polygamous relationship by the sound of it?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: It's not my ideal situation to be in. We're all selfish, we're born selfish and jealousy, you know, everyone is jealous. But you know, if the circumstances needed to be, I could be a second wife maybe.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why would that be that?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: Because it's easier, like he didn't marry on me, I was like the second.
FARHAN ARIF: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Either you wouldn't feel betrayed in a way?
FATIMAH YOUSSEF: I wouldn't feel betrayed, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: We've spoken to one woman who is really struggling at the moment with her feelings about being in a polygamous marriage, let's have a look.
Danielle: Well the best thing about being in an polygamist marriage is – like everyone’s happy, you get what you want, like he spends time with you, he spends time with her, he buys her flowers – he buys me flowers – it should be legal because it’s something beautiful.
If you actually look into it and see how they are living and you would love it and I reckon it should be legal.
The biggest challenge was seeing another – seeing him have another child from her – was one of my biggest challenges. How am I coping? Ahmmm, sometimes I’m alright and sometimes I’m upset – just mixed emotions, it’s depressing. I feel jealous, I feel upset of course. You just get really raged, I’m always getting depressed about it and sometimes I feel like I can’t handle it anymore.
I get all these thoughts on what am I going to do, then I think about my kids and I don’t want them seeing me upset and depressed, so I try to be as – like make myself as happy as possible for my kid’s sake. But the relationship is like –it’s well, but"¦.
Where to next? Ahmmmm live my life and see where it goes from there.
JENNY BROCKIE: I think that's so interesting because there are such mixed feelings that that woman's going through. On the one hand she's saying there are really good things about polygamy but on the other hand a major struggle to the point where she's thinking about
leaving. Eman, did that strike any cords with you with the women you talk to?
EMAN SHAROBEEM: That's what I hear, that's what I exactly hear from women. I believe, and she said it clearly that I'm stressed and I will need help and women actually seek help from a woman psychologist like myself and other colleagues as well in that area, that they can't talk and speak freely because of the religion factor, that they want to support the religion as well but the pain of jealousy and living in such a relation, where seeing the children growing in such a divided family and household definitely affects them. And of course she said that clearly.
JENNY BROCKIE: You two talked about this jealousy that you felt before and I just wonder how you've reconciled that. How did you get or have you reconciled that, do you still feel that way?
BELLE GLASBY: Really Marc's the one that, yes, I was feeling, did experience jealousy but when you have a man that each night when he's with you he tells you how much he loves you and how much he's like devoted to you, that's sort of pushes away any feelings.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dorothy, feelings of jealousy?
DOROTHY LOADER: I don't have, I don't have any feelings of jealousy because I think it was very gracious of my sister to let me share her husband.
JENNY BROCKIE: Marc?
MARC GLASBY: I'd like to just go back a little bit from that to what you asked Dorothy before about being the second one into the relationship and it's something that doesn't come across to a lot of people I guess is the discrimination she suffers for that. Because polygamy is illegal here and I can't marry her the same way I married Belle, she is regarded as something separate to this relationship. She's never regarded by outside forces, especially when it comes to going somewhere as a family, something like that.
Anywhere you go as a family you get a certain price if you've got two adults two children, we are not regarded as a family. Even for example seating us on the aeroplane on the way over here they separated Dorothy from us. Our names are the same, hers is different, boom, she goes at the back. So there is a lot of little things like that, that because of this prohibition on marriage, she suffers from.
JENNY BROCKIE: Interesting. How does that feel when that happens?
DOROTHY LOADER: Um, I suppose what it's like that, there's nothing I can do about it I suppose.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who gets the front seat in the car?
MARC GLASBY: They do, I sit in the back.
DOROTHY LOADER: Surprisingly --
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul, what did you want to say?
PAUL DOOLAN, BARKUS DOOLAN KELLY FAMILY LAWYERS: The law doesn't see a lot of overt cases of polygamy because it is illegal in Australia and it's a really difficult issue for the law to grapple with. How do you divide up rights and property rights between the two families.
This is the bad news for Marc, Marc mate, you better keep those two lovely ladies happy all your life because you're a living legal guinea pig. If one of them were to leave you it's a very, very difficult legal issue. How do you divide the assets between a husband and a wife and a de facto wife because the law says you can have a married wife and de facto wife at the same time. You can't marry them...
JENNY BROCKIE: But you can have them?
PAUL DOOLAN: You can have them.
JENNY BROCKIE: In common law?
PAUL DOOLAN: And mate, if two of them leave you at the same time, well pack your bags and go yourself.
JENNY BROCKIE: But why do you say that?
PAUL DOOLAN: Because the law's got to cater for all of their needs and even in circumstances where one has had a longer relationship than the other, I can imagine a Judge feeling pretty sympathetic to both of the wives more so than the husband perhaps.
JENNY BROCKIE: So theoretically, if somebody say had four wives and was legally married to one in Australia, but the other three were considered wives, would they all be entitled to de facto rights under the law?
PAUL DOOLAN: Even though those other ones, other than the first marriage is regarded as a void marriage or just a common law marriage, they have rights of property claims. They have rights of spouse maintenance and on death they have rights of succession as well and it's very, very complicated web to try and unravel all that in this kind of situation.
JENNY BROCKIE: How have you addressed some of those issues the two of you?
BELLE: Marc's ...
MARC GLASBY: Well I guess it comes more from me, doesn't it, because it would be my assets that would be split up.
JENNY BROCKIE: But they could take, I mean if for argument's sake one of you two fell out with Marc and decided to leave him, have you thought through the implications of that, of who'd have - who'd be entitled to what?
MARC GLASBY: Well we sort of have come to an agreement based on the fact that Belle and I had a certain amount when Dorothy came into the relationship, that remains Belle's on one side and everything we've got since then as a family and everything Dorothy brought in is hers. Everything we've got together would then be divided half/half and that's even in my will.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how would the law view that?
PAUL DOOLAN: They would think that's a very nice agreement but we'll do what we think is right. Unless you have some binding agreement and I don't think you can have a binding agreement between three people of that kind of nature. You can have kind of a pre-nuptial or financial agreement between the husband and a wife but I don't see that you can have any binding agreement that would force the Court to do what you want to do between three people, four people, five people.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what are you saying then Paul? Are you saying that the law can't deal with polygamy at the moment?
PAUL DOOLAN: No, it can and it has to, but it does it in its own way and the best advice I can give to Marc is to keep everybody happy.
JENNY BROCKIE: What does the law say Paul about a man bringing other wives into the country?
PAUL DOOLAN: Australian law under recognises under the Marriage Act the first marriage that's occurred and in a migration sense it's very hard for a husband to bring more than one wife into Australia. The second wife or the third wife or the fourth wife they can't come in as a spouse accompanying that person into Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is there a case for the law changing in respect of any of this do you think?
PAUL DOOLAN: There's been no indication whatsoever that the federal government has any interest in changing the Marriage Act to recognise polygamy - they've made that quite clear. There's been no suggestion that Australian law would give recognition in terms of family law to indigenous laws as they apply except in some particular circumstances, and there's been a debate in the last twelve months whether sharia law should receive some recognition in Australia and again the government seems quite clear that's not going to be the case.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter Richardson, looking at history, how does society fare in relation to polygamy and monogamy? Do we have any indication of whether societies are more or less cohesive with one or other system?
PETER RICHARDSON: Well, the research that we did suggests that polygamy generates several different kinds of conflicts. There's a lot of plural marriage then many men get left out of the, many men at the lower end of the socio economic stratum of society don't have a chance to get a wife at all and these are men, well unmarried men in general are trouble and men that have very low prospects for marriage are much more likely to engage in crime and to abuse drugs and to otherwise be a problem in society.
And then men hoarding resources to invest in getting more wives is a big problem. So the GDP of countries, GDP per capita of countries that have monogamous seems to be higher, partly because wealthy men in polygamous societies particularly spend a lot of resources on extra wives. In monogamous countries they invest that in the economy and grow the economy.
JENNY BROCKIE: Marc, you and Belle don't have children?
MARC GLASBY: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dorothy, you left your children in Malaysia when you came into this relationship. How old were your children?
DOROTHY LOADER: My son will be 22 this year and my daughter will be 17.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did they feel about what you've done?
DOROTHY LOADER: It wasn't easy when I left for Australia and I told, later on I did write a letter to my husband saying that I wanted a separation and I did, well my children knew that our relationship in Malaysia wasn't really good. Of course being children, they were not happy about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have a relationship with them now?
DOROTHY LOADER: Sadly my son is not talking to me yet but my daughter is communicating with me and she has sort of accepted it. Though my son did write, did email to Marc a few years ago saying that he's glad that I'm happy now and told Marc to take a care of me.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was it worth it Dorothy?
DOROTHY LOADER: Well I think it's worth it because I was not happy back in Malaysia and I don't think as parents that I should just live my life just for my kids and not having my own happiness. Because eventually the children are going to grow up and once they leave the nest you're left all alone. So I think it is worth it because Marc and Belle loves me very much. It's worth it.
MARC GLASBY: And that's something I think's been missed here a little bit here is the fact that our situation is quite unique and it's based on love. There's nothing cultural or nothing religious about it, it's based purely on love and trust between us.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's what make it very interesting?
DOROTHY LOADER: Yes, that makes it work, love.
JENNY BROCKIE: Thank you very much for joining us tonight and thank you all very much. It's been a very informative discussion. We can wrap it up here now but you can you keep talking on-line. So to our website, Twitter or Insight's Facebook page.