Cabinet Fails to Tackle Controversial Civil Marriage Issue

The cabinet did not discuss the thorny issue of civil marriage during its session on Wednesday, the information minister announced, although more than 50 marriage contracts are awaiting approval at the Directorate General of Personal Status.

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq had on Tuesday declared that the issue would be discussed from outside the cabinet's agenda after coming under the fire of the civil society.

“The issue of civil marriage was not discussed during the session and the interior minister has the jurisdiction to take a decision, and if he raises it during the next session we will discuss it,” Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced after a cabinet session at the Grand Serail.

“In my opinion, optional civil marriage is a solution to the problem of wedding outside Lebanon,” Jreij added.

“Until the approval of an optional civil marriage law, marriage contracts can be registered with notaries, without the need to travel to Cyprus to bypass the law,” the minister went on to say.

In comments published Wednesday in An Nahar newspaper, former interior minister Ziad Baroud expressed astonishment that the civil marriage issue returned to square one after the registration of seven marriages so far.

“How can couples who are undergoing the same legal process be treated in a different and contradicting matter?” Baroud wondered.

Baroud stressed that “the failure to endorse a law that organizes civil marriage doesn't turn such marriages illegal as long as they don't violate the Lebanese system.”

In 2013, caretaker interior minister Marwan Charbel signed the civil marriage certificate of Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish, in an unprecedented move, after they removed the reference of their sects from their respective IDs and based their marital contract on Decree No. 60 L.R.

The couple became the first civil marriage registered in the records of the Directorate General for Personal Affairs in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Supreme Council in the Ministry of Justice took a unanimous decision in February last year to consider legal all civil marriages conducted in Lebanon by people who do not have any religious affiliation.

Notary Joseph Beshara told the daily that the issue is “humanitarian and legal,” noting the state can't prevent any couple from getting married, in particular if they practiced their freedom of belief and had de-listed themselves from their sect's registration.

“In this case they are obliged to be married according to civil rules.”

The decree, which organizes and recognizes religious communities and grants them rights, says those who are not affiliated with a sect are subject to the civil law of personal status, as well as to the Preamble to the Constitution, which endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite a long-running campaign by civil groups, such weddings still have no legal basis in Lebanon.

Former President Elias Hrawi in 1998 proposed a similar law, which gained approval from the cabinet only to be halted amid widespread opposition from the country’s religious authorities.

Most religious faiths have their own regulations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, and mixed Christian-Muslim weddings in Lebanon are often discouraged unless one of the potential spouses converts.

The Lebanese authorities recognize civil weddings only if they have been registered abroad, and it has become common for mixed-faith couples to marry in nearby Cyprus.


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