Lebanon: A Civil Marriage Valentine

Renewed calls for Lebanon to allow civil marriages were made in a Valentine ceremony at a Beirut bar over the weekend.

Several inter-religious couples staged mock weddings at a bar in Beirut's trendy Gemmayze district to protest the country's stiff marriage laws.

As it stands, civil weddings between inter-religious couples are only recognised if the marriage did not occur on Lebanese territory. For a country with a handful of religious sects, this makes for a sticky situation for many cross-sectarian couples.

The protest is part of a general campaign within the country to replace stifling religious and sectarian control of Lebanon's political institutions with a secular, equal-for-all system.

The Valentine ceremony came only a few days after Interior Minister Ziad Baroud declared that citizens may now remove their religious identity from their national IDs if they so choose.

The move was applauded by many Lebanese bloggers, although others remain skeptical.

Ms. Tee from B-side Beirut was among the supporters of Baroud's decision:

I have been swamped with teaching, so I have not been really paying attention to the news lately. So when I learned that I now have the option to actually remove my sect from my personal status register (Nufus) I had to rub my eyes and pinch myself. How did that happen?

Apart from increasing my respect for minister of interior, Ziad Baroud, even more, this is probably the only piece of news coming from Lebanon over the past few years that I find worth celebrating. As the atheist product of a mixed marriage, I take this personally.

A stoke of optimism from The Lebanese Inner Circle:

Although this move initially only removes reference to one’s religion, the aim is to remove religious law altogether, and reach a civil law which will apply to all citizens, leaving religion a personal matter.

In a country where sectarianism is so ingrained, it will be interesting to see how many Lebanese actually take advantage of this opportunity.

A hats-off from Hanibaal at Lebanon Iznogood. However, he states that more is needed and provides a broader perspective on the religion versus secularism struggle in the country:

While this is a major step forward towards a secularization of the Lebanese political system, major hurdles remain in eliminating religion entirely from public life. Lebanon's political system remains one of the most primitive in the world since one's national identity and political life are not governed by independent State institutions, but rather remain tightly in the hands of the churches, mosques and other organized religions that dominate the State. Lebanon's so-called democracy is a fallacy; the reality is that Lebanon is a federated theocracy where religious communities – not people – are represented in the government and State institutions.

Hanibaal also cautions that Baroud's announcement may be a “smokescreen” to appease Lebanon's secular supporters:

Another example is that in Lebanon you cannot be a Hindu, an agnsotic, a Bahai, an atheist, or a member of any other religion than the 18 that the Lebanese constitution recognizes. You have no civil status if you are not a member of those 18 communities. In effect, Minister Baroud's decree may be a smokescreen because it only removes “reference” to one's religion, but one's religion will continue to determine who votes and who runs for public office.

And in the struggle for civil marriage, Hanibaal highlights current realities in regards to inter-religious relationships in Lebanon and the plight of women in this regard:

In Lebanon, no two spouses in an inter-religious marriage are allowed to keep their own individual religions; Typically, the wife has to abandon her religion and convert to her husband's in order to be allowed to marry him. “Honor killings” are still protected by the law in Lebanon: Every other day, a Muslim woman is killed because her brother, cousin, or any male member of her extended family accused her or suspected her of an out-of-marriage relationship. Often, this is how a male relative who had forced a female member of his family into prostitution but who fears the woman might go public, silences her by killing her then declaring that she has “dishonored” the family.

Ms. Tee from B-side Beirut is also aware of the concerns, but believes Baroud's decision has put the country on the right path. She also reflects on the perplexity of “sectarian citizenship”:

It is, of course, nothing like a magical wave of the wand which undoes sect. Clearly, the parliament, voting system, and our “representative” “democracy” can continue along the same lines even if the very last citizen were to remove his sect from the register. Particularly when they are all based on a census whose population no longer exists.

But that is precisely why the option to remove one’s sect from the register is so phenomenal: the burden of responsiblity rests with me, as a person and citizen, to go tomorrow early morning and remove my sect from the Nufus register. And therein lies the challenge. What will become of it will only be a viable discussion once the widespread rejection of sectarian citizenship becomes fact. So, I find myself wondering, how many will do it? And how many will ask themselves: who am I if not my sect?


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