BEIRUT: Christian, Druze, Shiite and Sunni clerics are split over the legalization of civil marriage in Lebanon, an issue recently brought back into the light by a young couple who attempted what they call the country’s first civil marriage.
While most Sunni and Shiite preachers have taken firm stances against such a step, Christian spiritual figures were more ready to back the option of marrying outside a religious institution.
“For us, civil marriage is a union between two people organized by the state out of its social duty. The Maronite church doesn’t mind legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon,” Maronite Bishop Samir Mazloum told The Daily Star.
However, the bishop argued that if legalized, civil marriage should be required for married couples of all sects.
“A general law for civil marriage, not an optional one, could be applied in the country,” the bishop said.
He explained that marriage was a sacrament for the Christians, and that the religious rite could go hand in hand with civil marriage.
“As for our pious sons, they can crown their marriage in the church and that should be no problem for us,” Mazloum said.
Greek Orthodox Bishop George Khodr also voiced support for legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon, and told The Daily Star that the “church has no objections to a civil marriage contract,” adding that the procedure could be optional.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Saad, the head of one of the country’s Greek Orthodox spiritual courts, said that as a committed Christian he favors marriage in the church. However, he strongly supported a law that would allow for optional civil marriage.
He said that allowing marriages outside religious institutions would spare citizens a series of burdens that are related to conflicts between married couples.
“We have to deal with the disputes of married couples, and we can’t deny that there is corruption in [some] spiritual courts. There should be an option of civil marriage and citizens can choose what they want,” Saad said.
He added that the state should disregard the stances being taken by various sects and simply impose such a law.
“The state is responsible for responding to citizens’ demands, and legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon. It can’t just refrain from doing so under the pretext of not disturbing the sects,” the priest argued.
Some two weeks after Khouloud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish’s attempt to perform the first civil marriage in Lebanon gained the support of President Michel Sleiman, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani warned Muslims against what he called a “germ.”
Qabbani said that Muslim officials who support such marriages were no longer considered Muslims.
Echoing Qabbani, Salafist Sheikh Omar Bakri told The Daily Star that civil marriage is “adultery” and that the children of couples married in such a fashion are “illegitimate.”
“Any Muslim legislator who supports the legalization of civil marriage would be allowing what God prohibits and is thus considered an apostate and outside the Islamic religion,” Bakri said.
Several days after the mufti announced his stance, Lebanon’s Higher Shiite Council said that it was also against legalizing civil marriage in the country and called for an interfaith dialogue to discuss the issue.
However, Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hasan al-Amin told The Daily Star that civil marriage can be a binding contract if the couple agrees on conditions that do not contradict Islamic law.
“Marriage in Islam nearly qualifies as ‘civil,’ and is not a sacrament, as it is for Christians. Muslims don’t necessarily have to get married in the presence of a sheikh,” he said.
For his part, Sheikh Ghassan Halabi, adviser to Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Naim Hasan, told The Daily Star that his religious community opposes civil marriage, especially without a prior effort to educate the public on what a law change would mean.
“As religious figures, we have a problem with civil marriage,” said Halabi, who also disapproved of the way the topic had been approached.
“You cannot endorse civil marriage in Lebanon by simply tweeting about the issue,” Halabi said, in a lightly veiled reference to Sleiman’s announcement of his support for civil marriage over Twitter.
The Druze representative said an awareness campaign would be necessary before he could endorse a new law, and that the current wave of support was not serious as it is not backed up by any official proposal.
“Marriage now is subject to religious legislation. Where is the constitutional legislation for civil marriage?” Halabi asked. “Has any lawmaker even proposed a draft law on the issue?”