BEIRUT: Civil marriage is legal in Lebanon and it is time to practice it, the Justice Ministry’s Higher Committee for Consultations concluded during a conference held Thursday. “Everything indicates that we can have civil marriage in Lebanon,” said Marwan Karkabi, a judge from the committee, adding that the issue has been discussed for many years, but has only produced “useless talk.”
From a legal perspective, there is nothing to prevent the Lebanese from being civilly married, Karkabi added.
According to Karkabi, Article 9 of the Constitution stipulates freedom of opinion, and as Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy that theoretically respects public freedoms, individuals are allowed to marry freely according to their beliefs, he said.
“Using this framework, what is preventing us from having civil marriage in Lebanon? The law allows it. So civil law should be formed.”
The Higher Committee for Consultations in the Justice Ministry approved last year the marriage of Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish, a young couple that requested to register their civil marriage in Lebanon after they had their official sects removed from their documents.
Succariyeh and Darwish were both present at the conference at the Beirut Bar Association headquarters, along with a large number of lawyers and judges. The conference was organized by the nonprofit organization Youth for Development in cooperation with the association.
“We broke down the walls and we broke the taboo behind it,” Karkabi said, adding that the committee’s work regarding civil marriage was “very important.”
He also suggested that it was time foreigners came to Lebanon for their civil nuptials, rather than the other way around.
“How is it possible that we don’t have civil marriage in Lebanon yet?” the judge asked.
Public notary Joseph Beshara echoed Karkabi, adding that “civil marriage is not just legal, it is a preordained right according to the Constitution, international conventions and domestic law.”
The speakers included member of the association Fadi Barakat and trainee attorney Zeina Obeid, who spoke on behalf of the association.
According to the committee’s ruling, a public notary is entitled to uphold the marriage of Lebanese citizens who don’t belong to any sect or who have removed sectarian affiliations from their official documents.
Couples can have civil marriage contracts based on any foreign law they choose, as long as the statute is approved by Lebanon. Many Lebanese have traveled to Turkey and Cyprus, as well as Western countries, to be married under civil law.
“Why is it [civil marriage] necessary in foreign countries, but not necessary in Lebanon?” Judge Sami Mansour said. “The world is thinking of higher, more important issues, and we are preoccupied with primitive things.”
In 1998, then-President Elias Hrawi drafted a bill proposing optional civil marriage. The Cabinet approved the bill but it was shelved because it faced opposition from then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the religious authorities.
On March 18, 2011, a number of NGOs and secular organizations submitted a draft law on civil marriage to Parliament, but the proposal was never debated.
Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said in December that the Legislation and Advisory Committee was preparing a draft law to legalize civil marriage in Lebanon.
He was not available for comment.
Head of the Beirut Bar Association George Jreij said enforcing a civil state should not be perceived as undermining religious institutions.
“Civil marriage, whether by obligation or by choice, does not turn an individual into an infidel or an immoral being,” Jreij said.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani and several Muslim preachers took a firm stance against the legalization of civil marriage last year, saying Muslim officials who supported it would not be considered Muslim any longer.
Jreij said the Beirut Bar Association followed the Lebanese Constitution only, and would not falter in its support for the creation of a civil state and a personal affairs statute “until this becomes a reality.”
He added that opposing civil marriage meant opposing growth, and the legislature could not flourish if marriages were based on foreign laws.