On Apr. 13, instead of commemorating the outbreak of the civil war, some Lebanese will hold a civil wedding in Martyr’s Square. A group of young Christian and Muslim men and women are organizing a collective civil-wedding ceremony.
This event will take place amid an ongoing debate on a personal status civil law that was first proposed in the early 1950s, although many political and religious leaders continue to refuse to legalize civil marriage. As a result, many Lebanese seeking a civil marriage travel to other countries that permit it. Ironically, once these civil marriages are registered in Lebanon, Lebanese courts rule according to the law of the countries where the marriage took place.
There have been a number of attempts by individuals, groups and parties to legalize civil marriage, but without success. On Apr. 2, 1951, the parliament issued a law defining the powers of Christian authorities, and many members of parliament stressed the need to legalize a personal status civil law. But both Muslim and Christian clergy joined hands to push for a law that would grant religious courts powers similar to civil courts. At the time, the bar association carried out a six-month strike in protest. The association didn't stop the strike until it received a promise to consider a draft law on personal status, as part of the project of the parliamentary administration and justice committee.
It began with a 1957 initiative by Raymond Edde. He did not put forth a draft, but he raised ideas and proposals in parliament, and the Lebanese National Bloc supported the optional personal status draft law. Several attempts followed, including:
- A National Movement reform project in 1976, which included an item on secularism that included a law of personal status, but did not specify whether this law was optional or mandatory.
- The Democratic Party project in 1972, the first integrated project providing for an optional unified personal status law which applied to all Lebanese. It was prepared by the late academics Abdullah Lahoud and Joseph Mughayzal. The project provided for revoking Sharia and the religious courts, transferring powers to the civil courts for deciding personal status matters.
- In 1977, August Bacchus, then a member of parliament, proposed a law that included the Democratic Party's project.
- In July 1977, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) proposed an optional personal status law mostly inspired by the Democratic Party project. The SSNP submitted its proposal to parliament.
- The optional civil personal status law that was the project of President Elias Hrawi. At the time, Hrawi assigned a group of jurists to draft the provisions of this law, to apply to Lebanese people who do not wish to abide by the religious personal status law.
All these projects and proposals produced no results, because of the opposition of a large segment of Lebanese society — the clergy.
Clergy and religious authorities have opposed these proposals under the pretext of preserving religious values and morals. But the actual reason for rejecting a civil law is preserving their own interests, keeping influence and control over the population and a role in decision-making.
There is also a segment of Lebanese society that rejects civil marriage out of ignorance, both because of misleading information and misinterpretation, as well as religious intolerance that has nothing to do with faith. Other Lebanese are simply indifferent to civil marriage or its effects. There is also a large segment of Lebanese who support civil marriage and seek to legalize it, but their efforts continue in vain.
Most western countries and some Muslim countries have legalized mandatory or optional civil marriage. It is mandatory in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Romania, Norway, Monaco, Luxembourg, Brazil, Latin America and Russia, while it is optional in the UK, the US, Greece and Spain.
Lebanese law does not allow civil marriage, but it recognizes civil marriages held outside Lebanese territory on the basis of Article 25 of Resolution 60, which has been in force since the French mandate. Civil marriage is not contrary to public order.
Through legalizing their civil marriage, Kholoud Sukkariya and Nidal Darwish wanted to make a breakthrough against the wall of sectarianism. This has encouraged many other couples, like Shaza Khalil and Tony Dagher, to take on civil marriage as a symbol of their love — another step towards the establishment of a civil state.
Mohammad Harfoush is a Lebanese journalist reporting for the Kuwaiti Al-Anbaa newspaper and the author of Eritrea: Basic Facts.