The ever-growing influence of religious authorities and the lack of officials’ intentions to take the initiative and legitimize civil marriage in Lebanon, are still main obstacles confronted by secular couples and civil rights activists.
Due to Lebanon’s pluralist and multi-confessional society, nothing prevents a marriage between Muslims and Christians or among any other sects. However, the married couple should abide to the law of the marriage in all what relates to the marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children. And the law usually gives children the father’s religion.
Mattar Law firm, laid dawn conditions for mixed marriage, which are permitted in Lebanon with the following remarks: (http://mattarlaw.com/marriage-in-lebanon/#mixed)
“-A Sunni or Shia (Muslim) man can marry a Christian or Jewish woman without her having to convert herself, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a Christian or a Jew.
-Catholic men can marry a Muslim woman. In this case the couple receives the blessing at the sacristy, and the children must be baptized and raised as Catholics.
-Druze community only allows inter-Druze wedding. The same apply for the Israelite community.
-Orthodox church allows weddings with Muslims under the conversion condition.
Under Muslim law, polygamy is permitted. However, and nowadays it is regarded as being impractical and undesirable due to the additional economic burdens.”
In February 2015, Lebanon’s interior minister Nouhad Mashnouk, “was determined to return the issue of civil marriage to square one, reversing all the progress made by non-sectarian activists.”
Former interior ministers Ziad Baroud and Marwan Charbel confirm that the procedures they followed to cross out confessional identities on civil registry records and allow the registration of civil marriage contracts in Lebanon, were entirely legal, and that the reluctance to implement (or desire to annul) them is tantamount to stripping a segment of Lebanese citizens of their civil rights. ( http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/23598)
Alice Fordam, from NPR radio quoted a Lebanese new groom, named Darwish as complaining that, “No one ever said marriage was easy, but in Lebanon, it’s even harder. That’s because the country has 18 different religions and sects and almost as many sets of marriage laws for each — 15 in total.
The laws, along with those governing divorce and inheritance, are determined by 15 different religious courts.”
Zena, a Christian 28-year old, married Mohamed, a Muslim Shia young man, in Cyprus few years ago, despite her parent’s objection. She said that she went through the civil marriage because “religious entities do not protect the woman’s rights should the marriage be dissolved.”
“Civil marriage equalizes and protects the rights of both partners and the children, especially when they belong to different religions or sects,” Zena stresses.
A Human Rights Watch report this year found all Lebanon’s religious courts Christian, Muslim and others, enforcing laws that were unfair to women. Mixed-religion marriages are legal, but all religious authorities apply a tangle of conditions to them.
“For this reason, I wanted to be independent,” Zena says. She wanted equality, to be the master of her family alongside her husband. “For this reason we chose civil marriage both of us.”
Shiekh Mohamad Taboush, from Tripoli, explains that the Muslim Sharia (law) rejects strongly the concept of civil marriage.
“The marriage contract in Islam should be abided by Koran laws and regulations. Islam allows multiple wives and legalizes divorce, while other religious teachings do not. This is a conflicting issue. We can not overrule our Islamic laws in the first place, because it is our culture, convictions and beliefs, and is above the laws introduced by man.”
He refused any alternative to Islam marriage, stressing that the Koran is “our law on Earth” which cannot be violated.
Father Abu Asli rejects any replacement or amendments to the church concept of marriage because it is a “blood and soul reunion, which is divine”.
“The Maronite Church considers marriage a bond between a man and a woman, as one of the church secrets, which should be blessed and witnessed by a priest in church.”
Referring to the bible verses, he said that the church considers “marriage as a bond created by God and no one can break it. “What God has united, no man can separate,” the Bible says.
Marriage, he adds, is built on a “rock with strong bases that face all obstacles and endure all circumstances, in good or bad until death do the couple apart.”
He concludes explaining that the couples who are united in civil marriage are not considered married according to the Maronite church.
Christian churches give some form of blessing to a marriage; the wedding ceremony typically includes pledge by the community to support the couple’s relationship. Religious communities widely hold marriage as a relationship uniquely allegorical to God’s relationship with the people.
Many efforts from NGO groups sought to introduce civil marriage in Lebanon’s legal system since the early 1950s, but all have always ended up in vain, and were rejected since 1960s till now.
Bloggers and civil activists (http://jhonnytanios.blogspot.com) have argued that Lebanese couples wanting to unite under civil marriage often go to nearby countries, mainly to Cyprus to have their civil marriage performed there.
Many arguments have said that the simplest and practical way to deal with that matter would be to introduce a facultative civil marriage for the interested couples. Since Lebanon recognizes the civil marriages abroad, why not have them conducted in Lebanon and leave the choice of the people be reachable as in many western and developed countries.
“A civil marriage is a legal relationship that results from a contract by which one man and one woman mutually promise to live together in the relationship of husband and wife, in law for life or until the legal termination of the relationship. Unfortunately, civil marriage does not exist in Lebanon; however the country recognizes civil marriage which took place outside the Lebanese territory.” Nancy Aoun wrote on her blog.
Civil marriage is permitted in many countries in the region, from Turkey to Tunisia, but it has always been out of the question in Lebanon, making us wonder why a beautiful Westernized, pluralistic country like Lebanon is still pulling the old gears!
by Michael ElAndary