Civil marriage is a complex issue in Lebanon and one that is full of inconsistencies, human rights breaches and quite frankly, naivety. Here are some facts and figures that will put things into perspective.
Important Facts and Figures
- Civil marriages performed abroad have been recognized in Lebanon since 1936
- Divorce for civil marriages conducted abroad can be done in Lebanese civil courts, with no need to return to the country where the knot was tied
- In the 1990s, former president Elias Hrawi tried to pass a law on civil marriage, which made it through the cabinet but was later shelved in parliament due to fierce opposition from muslim leaders and a meek position from then-Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir
- In 2011, Shaml, a group of 14 NGOs submitted a draft law for civil marriage to parliament. The draft law was never even put up for debate or committee studies
- In Lebanon, people from different sects cannot get married unless one converts to the other’s sect
- The absence of civil marriage in Lebanon is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Lebanon had a key part in drafting and passing. The article being violated is the one that has to do with freedom of expression and belief, since the person involved is forced to change beliefs to be able to marry his or her spouse
- It is in direct violation of our own constitution, which states “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination” (Article C of the Constitution’s preamble)
- Muslims divorces often favor the man, which is unfair most of the time and not based on the actual circumstances, but religious principles. Luckily, kids do not suffer anymore, and civil court rulings are taken into consideration over religious ones when minors are involved. In Sunni law, the mother’s right to custody ends at age 7 for boys and age 9 for girls, and in Shiite law at age 2 for boys and age 7 for girls. (imagine for example, a child over 2, who was abused by his father, would still be given to his father since after 2 the son “belongs to the dad” if religious courts had the jurisdiction to!)
- Christian divorces cost no less than 20-30,000 USD in church and court fees. It also requires a very long and bureaucratic process that is unnecessarily tiring, expensive and humiliating due to the unfavorable attitude taken towards Christians, especially Maronites, seeking divorce.
- Hundreds of couples travel abroad for the explicit purpose of getting married a civil marriage. The top countries of choice are Cyprus, Turkey and France. According to the Cypriot Embassy in Beirut, 800 Lebanese couples traveled to Cyprus to get married in 2011. Travel agents even have packages as low as 500$ that will have you there by 8:30AM, married and legally sorted out by the same afternoon and back in Beirut (or a more enjoyable and longer honeymoon package of course)
- Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai has been a more vocal advocate of civil marriage, going as far say saying it is “a must” and would help “respect our atheist brothers and sisters” in Lebanon, speaking on the violence against women draft law that has so far been hijacked and blocked in parliament
- Muslim religious leaders are still vehemently opposed to civil marriage and that is evident in their very violent opposition of the stop violence against women law that was opposed with a fatwa from Sunni leaders and an Israeli conspiracy theory by Shiite leaders
- More and more of the country’s youth are circumventing the absurd laws with the loopholes, though costly, of getting married abroad (a rise from 220 in 2008 to 800 in 2011)
- Recently, a young couple has set a precedent using several loopholes in Lebanon’s laws and constitution that could allow for civil marriage in Lebanon. If the wedding is recognized, it would grant the ability of marrying in a civil court without the blessing of religious leaders, especially muslim ones, that would suffer a blow to their influence and power over the Lebanese population (both financially and politically)
- The cabinet’s recent refusal to grant Lebanese women the right to pass on their citizenships to their children and spouses, signals that the current government isn’t very liberal when it comes to social issues and personal status laws, meaning that real action to clearly make civil marriage a reality in Lebanon is farfetched, and the hope rests with the loopholes presented recently by the pioneering young couple
I hope by the time I want to get married, I can in Lebanon. Till then, let’s keep hopes and efforts up, and show the religious leaders that we want to be able to chose. Vote on the poll here to express your opinion.