BEIRUT: Activists at a demonstration in support of civil marriage said they were optimistic about the chances of amending the law, despite their rally’s low turnout, which many blamed on the timing. Several activists gathered in Martyrs Square Monday afternoon to voice their support for civil marriage, an issue which has gained momentum in recent weeks following one couple’s much-publicized efforts to register their own civil union.
Under current legislation, civil marriages conducted abroad are recognized by the state, but divorce, custody and inheritance are all decided according to the husband’s sect.
“We have two serious messages to send today,” Roger Bejjani, one of the organizers, told the assembled crowd.
“First, to the men of faith, without exception and with all due respect ... we ask you to limit yourselves to religious matters and take your hands off our issues and the personal choices of the people,” Bejjani said.
To the politicians, he continued, “We do not want to hear superficial and empty slogans anymore ... work on building a true state where human rights, equality between man and woman, absolute freedom, secularism, modernity, peace, job opportunities, prosperity, welfare, social justice and security for the elderly prevail.”
Maria Helou, who attended the gathering, said she hoped it would increase pressure on the government and the prime minister to throw their support behind the initiative. President Michel Sleiman has already come out in favor of optional civil marriage.
“We’re in a new era, a modern era,” said 22-year-old Helou, who held a sign that read in Arabic: “I want a civil marriage, even if [he is] from my sect.”
“It’s time for us to make the change while the issue is still warm.
“It’s a right, it’s a civil right, it’s not just to be married,” she said.
Adel Moubarak, 50, said even though he married in a Maronite ceremony, he wants his children to have civil marriages. “I go to church every week, I am very religious, but this is a law,” Moubarak said. “We don’t want to continue living under the [rule of] priests and the mufti; we’re looking to the future. We hope to eventually see a civil marriage law that is obligatory, not optional ... The second phase is a civil state.”
Support for amending the law to recognize civil marriage contracts appears to be growing, and many activists like Moubarak see no contradiction between their faith and their desire for a secular state. But on a popular level, the division between pro- and anti-civil marriage factions often breaks down into secular versus religious camps, and the rhetoric can get heated.
Abir Ward, 34, took a hard-line approach. When asked about her sign, which read “religious marriage = uncivil marriage” she said: “When I say religious marriage is equivalent to uncivil marriage, basically I’m saying this is depriving people of the right to coexist.”
“Politicians and religious people are always calling for coexistence,” she continued.
“How can we coexist if we’re not even allowed to intermarry?”