Seen as a potential long-awaited breakthrough, it’s fair to say the union of Kholoud Succarieh and Nidal Darwich on January 17, 2013, was the most celebrated marriage in Lebanon.
In a country where secular marriage is not an option, the couple celebrated what would have been the first civil marriage on the Lebanese soil, had it been recognized by the government. This reignited the debate concerning civil marriage, something many have been demanding for decades.
In Lebanon, civil status is administered by religious authorities. This includes child custody in case of divorce, inheritance, marriage, and complicates unions between members of different religions. For years, members of civil society have been demanding an optional civil marriage to no avail, until Succarieh and Darwich challenged the status quo by arguing that the current legal framework makes civil marriage possible.
The bride and groom base their claim on a provision of Decree number 60 of the 1936 law, which states that Lebanese not belonging to any particular sect fall under a civil family law administrated by the state. After going through an administrative procedure to strike their religious sect off their personal records, the couple did all the necessary paperwork, including publishing a marriage intent and signed all relevant documents with a notary public, then submitted their marriage to the Ministry of Interior pending its official announcement.
The news of their marriage made headlines and was followed by another small leap towards civil marriage: President of the Republic Michel Sleiman repeatedly declared himself in favor of civil marriage. He tweeted:
@SleimanMichel: Some Politicians oppose #civilmarriageleb but that will not change my beliefs nor will it deter me from getting the train on the right track
@RamezKozma: @SleimanMichel Dear president Sleiman: millions & millions of Lebanese immigrants living abroad are proud to have you as their president…
@MyriamSfn: @SleimanMichel Civil marriage isn't an obligation. Those who don't like it can leave the chance for those who do! Its time to have it in Leb
@MannounM: Civil marriage is a fundamental and undeniable right which should be given to the Lebanese. Time for #civilmarriageleb has come!
However, the battle is nowhere near won. The Interior Ministry referred the marriage of Kholoud Succarieh and Nidal Darwich’s to the Justice Ministry who rejected it. In addition, Prime Minister Nagib Mikati declared that there was no need to get into “useless debates” on civil marriage at this point. Like many, blogger Lebanese Voices deplored the fact that civil marriage did not make it on the government’s agenda so far:
(…) a law that allows people to love, mix and decrease sectarianism would confuse the hell of our electoral laws for the government and therefore to protect their majesties parliamentary seats, civil marriage has been scratched of the last meeting and shelved yet again! Because “Mikati [sees] debate on civil marriage useless in face of political paralysis” and to that i say: Dear @Najib_Mikati, it’s my right to get married in the country that i pay taxes to, not its religious institutes. I’m Lebanese not a Sect.
The idea of a civil marriage was also rejected by many other prominent leaders, including Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Kabbani who issued a fatwa against civil marriage. Reactions were not positive online:
@jeanassy: Not sure if 2013 or 1013! Thanks to Mufti Qabbani! #CivilmarriageLeb Lebanon
@pamoula: #civilmarriageleb will not happen, religious figures will not allow it, and politicians will never say no to them they need them
Since 2009, the Lebanese have had the option of striking their religion off identity cards. So far in practice this remained a symbolic gesture. However, if the government ever does recognize optional civil marriage, thousands could soon be following suit, and finally be able to get married in Lebanon rather than traveling abroad for a civil ceremony, as many have been doing in recent years (nearby Cyprus being the choice destination). On a broader political and national level, this will also mean that the state will finally recognize its citizens outside the imposed structure of religious belonging. One cannot stress what an important achievement this could be. Or perhaps it would be enough to just quote a sentence read on a banner held by a participants in a demonstration favor of civil marriage: “civil marriage not civil war”.
Those who desire can sign the online petition [ar] demanding civil marriage in Lebanon.