- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

LONDON - Medi Siadatan has it all: nine children, two acclaimed restaurants, one faith and three wives.

But Mr. Siadatan is not happy. Though a respected businessman in his hometown of Walsall in the English midlands, by being polygamous he is forced to live outside the law.

He wants the British legal system to recognize that a man has the right to be married to four partners. And he wants the law to guarantee multiple wives the same rights as any other spouse. So he is launching a challenge to the British laws against polygamy in a move regarded as a test case.

The Iranian-born restaurateur claims that the law violates his rights to religious freedom, and he has hired a French lawyer to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

He married each of his three wives, ages 38, 32 and 26, in a simple Muslim ceremony. Under Islamic law, a man is permitted to have up to four wives.

"We would all feel a lot better if our marriage was legally recognized," he said. "Just as a lion has four females in his pride, so a man can take up to four women. It is in man's nature to take more than one partner."

Susan Vogel, a Birmingham, England-based lawyer who specializes in family law and has worked closely with the city's Asian community, said the 1998 Human Rights Act could "conceivably" provide some justification for Mr. Siadatan's case.

Many Muslims say the case encapsulates the debate over whether minorities have the right to follow their own customs or should conform to established British traditions.

"Polygamy is a very difficult issue for many British liberals," said Fuad Nahti, editor of the Muslim magazine Q-News. "It challenges the secular establishment. It pushes the boundaries of multiculturalism."

Khalida Khan, director of An-Nisa, a Muslim women's group in Britain, said there needs to be a reappraisal of the law to incorporate more of the values of Britain's ethnic and religious minorities. "At the moment there is a parallel legal system that is completely unrecognized by the state," she said.

The issue is also important to other ethnic and religious communities.

* Distributed by Scripps Howard

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