The German government has withdrawn proposed legislation that would have banned immigrants in polygamous marriages from obtaining German citizenship. The proposed ban had been included in draft changes to Germany's naturalization law, but was quietly removed from the final text, apparently in the interests of political correctness and multiculturalism.
Although German law clearly prohibits polygamy for German nationals, some have argued that the law is unclear as to whether the law applies to foreign nationals living in Germany. The interior ministers of Germany's 16 states had unanimously called on the German government to clarify the issue by enshrining into law a blanket ban on German citizenship for polygamous migrants.
Critics say that the bill, as it currently stands, would not only create a legal backdoor for polygamous migrants to become German citizens, but would effectively legalize the practice for Muslim immigrants. The changes would, consequently, enshrine into German law two parallel legal systems, one based on German Civil Law and another based on Islamic Sharia law.
The German government has long been debating proposed changes to the country's Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, StAG) that would strip German dual-citizens of their German citizenship if they join jihadi groups abroad. The proposed changes would not be retroactive and would not, for instance, apply to German jihadis who joined the Islamic State.
The original draft included language that would have prohibited immigrants in polygamous marriages, as well as immigrants who lack legal identification, from becoming German citizens. The language was removed from the bill after a Cabinet meeting in early April. The removal of the text, first reported by the newspaper Welt am Sonntag on May 5, has been greeted with outrage.
The parliamentary spokesman for the Christian Democrats, Mathias Middelberg, blamed Justice Minister Katarina Barley, of the Social Democrats, for removing the language. "This is completely incomprehensible and unacceptable," said Middelberg. "It should be self-evident that naturalization of persons living in polygamous marriages is out of the question in the Basic Law."
The secretary general of the libertarian party FDP, Linda Teuteberg, described Barley's intransigence as "nonsense":
"The acquisition of German citizenship is more than just a formality, but also expresses the recognition of a system of values. Polygamy is a form of marriage that disregards the rights of women and is incompatible with this order of values. Therefore, there is a need for legislative action here."
The Deputy Leader of the anti-mass-migration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), Beatrix von Storch, added:
"To allow Islamic polygamy in Germany is a betrayal of our Western values and a slap in the face for equal rights."
Barley, who is the SPD's top candidate for the European elections to be held later this month, has advocated more liberal EU immigration policies and mandatory distribution of migrants throughout the 28-nation bloc. Her refusal to approve the ban on German citizenship appears aimed at ingratiating herself with Muslim voters as well as with the European establishment in Brussels.
Although polygamy is prohibited under Germany's Civil Code, and punishable under Germany's Penal Code, German authorities have long tolerated — and even encouraged — the practice.
In September 2012, for instance, Die Welt reported that at least 30% of the Arab-born men living in the Neukölln district of Berlin are married to two women: one according to civil law, and another according to Sharia law. Die Welt offered five reasons why polygamy, despite being illegal, has been established in Germany:
"First, Sharia authorizes men to marry up to four women. Second, in the anonymity of modern society and the diversity of partner relationships, coexistence with several women or families can easily be camouflaged.
"Third, economically, the man does not need to worry about the second wife, because the state takes over the maintenance obligations for the second wife and her children by means of Hartz IV welfare benefits. Fourth, the imams do not care about the backgrounds of marriages and are not interested in whether they trust the first, second or third wife.
"And fifth, religious marriages are not controlled. They are registered only at the mosque where they are contracted. There is no central register for Islamic marriages. That is, men can move from mosque to mosque without anyone monitoring how often they marry."
In May 2013, RTL, one of Germany's leading media companies, aired a documentary about how Muslims in Germany use polygamy to commit welfare fraud. Muslim men residing in Germany routinely bring two, three or four women from across the Muslim world to Germany, and then marry them in the presence of a Muslim cleric. Once in Germany, the women request social welfare benefits, including the cost of a separate home for themselves and for their children, on the claim of being a "single parent with children."
Although the welfare fraud committed by Muslim immigrants is an "open secret" costing German taxpayers millions of euros each year, RTL reported that government agencies are reluctant to act due to political correctness.
"Yes, most men have several wives," an interviewee told RTL. "That's completely normal with us, among Muslims. It's completely normal these days because the prophet had several wives. So, it's normal. Yes, one can do it in Germany. It's also in the Koran that one can have several wives, so many do it."
In July 2013, then German President Joachim Gauck became the honorary godfather of Ismail, the three-month-old son of a 24-year-old Kosovo Albanian named Sabedin Tatari, who was living — at the expense of German taxpayers — with his parents, two wives and eight children in Gelsenkirchen. Gauck was criticized for effectively legitimizing polygamy in Germany.
In June 2016, then Justice Minister Heiko Maas, in an interview with the newspaper Bild, said that Germany would not recognize polygamous marriages, but he failed to outline specific measures to limit the practice. He said:
"No one who comes here has the right to put his cultural values or religious beliefs above our law. Everyone must abide by the law, no matter whether they have grown up here or have only just arrived."
In August 2016, Rhein Zeitung reported on a 49-year-old Syrian migrant named Ghazia A., who was living — at the expense of German taxpayers — in the southwest German state of Rhineland-Palatinate with his four wives and 23 children.
In February 2018, Spiegel TV aired a documentary about a 32-year-old Syrian, Ahmad A., who was living — at the expense of German taxpayers — in a "mini harem" in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein with his two wives and six children. Despite Germany's ban on polygamy, German authorities allowed Ahmed to bring to Germany his second wife, the mother of four of his children. Critics of the move said that German authorities had created a precedent for other refugees to demand the same.
According to Spiegel TV, Ahmad's family lives solely on welfare benefits, which include a two-story home and various forms of financial aid, including extra allowances for the children and free health care services. Ahmad, who received a German work permit, decided to stay at home with his family rather than find a job. "There's support here," Ahmed said of his new life in Germany. "They give us social benefits, they give us this house. I thank you very, very, very much, Mama Merkel."
In March 2018, German newspapers reported that an Iraqi family — a man, his two wives, and their 13 children — had been living in Bavaria at taxpayer expense for more than two years. After public outrage, Bavarian officials decided that the welfare payments could continue because the polygamous relationship, although illegal, was deemed to be a "hardship case."
In July 2018, Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback introduced a bill that would invalidate polygamous marriages contracted abroad:
"If people who are arriving here are married to several women according to foreign laws, we currently have to recognize these marriages. This is an unacceptable contradiction. We cannot just accept polygamy because another legal system allows this. We do not want to accept harems in Germany."
The Bavarian bill states that courts may overturn polygamous marriages that are contracted abroad. In addition, the bill clarifies that foreign nationals cannot contract polygamous marriages in Germany. Registrars would be prohibited from approving marriages if it is known that there are other wives.
The managing editor of Bild, Patrick Markowski, expressed frustration over the refusal of Germany's political class to crack down on polygamy in the country:
"In some Arab states and in Muslim West Africa, polygamy is still a lived reality. In peasant societies, the man as breadwinner should provide for several women. Over the centuries, however, polygamy has become a symbol of the degradation of women and is simply incompatible with our social principles.
"Germans who enter into a second marriage face up to three years in prison. It is abysmally wrong that we tolerate polygamy, whether the marriages were contracted by imams in Germany or they existed before arriving in Germany.
"It is all the more incomprehensible that the SPD-led Ministry of Justice strikes from a bill a ban on the naturalization for foreigners who live in polygamous marriages.
"What kind of civil servant or politician does this kind of thing? Who can seriously approve of naturalizing men who have multiple wives? One cannot imagine a greater failure of politics!"
Writing for the respected blog Tichys Einblick, commentator Giovanni Deriu noted:
"With this careless handling of legislation, I wonder if it was really an exaggeration when Italian Interior Minister Salvini, during his recent visit to Hungary, warned: 'If we do not overturn the ideologies and majorities of all the leftists and socialists in the European Parliament and we fail to send them home, Europe will be threatened with a Caliphate.'"
In the face of a public backlash, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, perhaps embarrassed by his failure to prevail over outgoing Justice Minister Barley, pledged to introduce new legislation this fall to ban the naturalization of polygamous migrants.