A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Civil Marriage Comes to Lebanon, with Caveats

Last Thursday, Lebanon's Interior Ministry registered the civil marrage of Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish, a move widely heralded as the establishment of civil marriage in Lebanon. The couple married on October 10, 2012, and had their marriage acknowledged as legal by the Justice Ministry several weeks earlier; except for Turkey and (within certain limitations), Tunisia, no Muslim countries in the Middle East have civil marriage. Nor does Israel. Lebanon has long allowed civil registration of marriages performed abroad, and the courts regulate those marriages based on the laws of the country where the marriage took place (France, Cyprus, etc.), but marriages performed in Lebanon were always subject to one of the 18 recognized religious sects. This is the first legal registration if a civil marriage that was performed on Lebanese soil.

There has been no new legislation to authorize civil marriage, however. If I have this right, the civil marriage activists who have pushed this case essential recognized that Lebanese law does not in fact prohibit civil marriage, though there's no regulatory law in place either. They simply got married (a willing civil notary performing the ceremony) after having their religious affiliations struck from their state identity registrations. The laws dating from the French mandate did not prohibit this but did not provide for it either.  (Tunisia, if I understand rightly, has a civil law of personal status and records civil marriages, but with some Islamic restrictions such as not allowing Muslim women to marry non-:Muslims. Some of my legally trained readers will probably correct me on the specifics in both cases.)

The Interior Minister who provided the final decision to register the marriage added the condition that the two cannot subsequenly change their religious affiliations. That condition, probably intended to placate the angry religious sects (the Sunni establishment has declared any Sunni supporting civil marriage as apostate), but the legal basis for those conditions is already being called in question.

So, as is often the case in things Lebanese, the main headline (Civil Marriage Comes to Lebanon) is true, but with lots of footnotes and caveats. Nonetheless, it's a step. Congratulations to the happy couple, over six months after the actual ceremony.

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