My personal relationship with the 77th Patriarch of the Maronite Church is one I am very proud of. Patriarch Bechara El Rai has been a very dear friend of my family for many years and he has been a father figure for me on many occasions. This might seem very odd to many of you, given my somewhat militant atheism often displayed on the blog.
The Daily Star reported today that the Patriarch not only endorsed civil marriage in Lebanon, but said the government should make it compulsory.
This is fantastic news, and was at first hard for me to swallow. The leader of one of the biggest religious groups in Lebanon has publicly endorsed and thrown his weight behind a fair and practical law when it comes to Personal Status. Read up on my thoughts about Lebanon’s retarded here.
The Patriarch highlighted that “compulsory civil marriage is designed to solve the problem of Muslim and Christian nonbelievers who live in Lebanon and want to get married” Yes, you read it right, he said “nonbelievers.”
This is a quite a significant choice of words. We are raised in an environment that treats non-belief in the same manner it treats homosexuality: intolerance, condescending attitude and a vehement opposition to it. As a result, people like me who have lost faith and embraced non-belief, do so gradually and with extreme caution, sort of what I imagine gay people go through when they “come out”
Today, the Patriarch set an example to those who follow him and acknowledged that nonbelievers are a sizable portion of the Lebanese population and that their personal wishes and rights must be respected. Instead of hearing with the usual unflinching, rigid stances religious figures are known to adhere to, the Patriarch voiced the concerns of most young Lebanese people eloquently and confidently.
The Patriarch took this stance in front of hundreds of students despite the probable controversy this will kick up. I can already hear the pens and pencils in Dar el Fatwa and the equivalent Shiite organization writing up statements condemning the Patriarch’s position when it comes to civil marriage. I though, as I’m sure many of my muslim friends, will agree with the head of the Maronite Church on this one.
You might be wondering how on Earth did a clergyman get to be so open-minded. Well, the Patriarch is merely outlining the places religion should not be present in, and that’s the law. I’d also bet the horrors and hardships he witnessed as a judge in the Maronite Family Court, must’ve helped him realize that a modern, practical and rational Personal Status Law is a MUST. He’s also well-known for his insight and courage, and thus even though this was somewhat of a surprise, it’s definitely not strange coming from Patriarch Bechara El Rai.
His stance on maintaining the current confession-based partition of the government is understandable though, with Christian demographics dwindling and Muslim population rising steadily, you can’t blame him for trying to sure up what foothold Christians still have in the government.
To sum up, I wan to warmly thank the Patriarch for his courageous stance. I also want to encourage other religious leaders to follow his lead, and not block it like they are blocking the protection of women’s rights and safety by law in the Lebanese parliament…