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Lebanon News

Mikati says debate on civil marriage useless in face of political paralysis

Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during an interview with The Daily Star at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Monday, July 2, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati rebuffed Tuesday President Michel Sleiman’s call to resume the debate in Cabinet over legalizing civil marriage, saying that such a discussion is useless amid the current circumstances in the country.

“Debate over civil marriage is currently not on the agenda since it was discussed years ago,” Mikati told ministers during a Cabinet session.

Mikati’s comments were made three days after Sleiman called for legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon in the wake of a couple’s attempt to have a civil marriage after removing religious identification from their civil registration documents.

Sleiman’s presence in Russia for an official visit averted a quarrel with Mikati during Tuesday’s session.

The chair of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee MP Michel Musa said the government should allow couples to have a civil marriage in Lebanon instead of forcing many Lebanese travel abroad to wed.

Although Sleiman’s remarks in support of civil marriage sparked a wave of positive reactions on social networking websites, most politicians refrained from endorsing the president’s proposal to bring the issue back to the government’s agenda.

Sources from the Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that Sleiman called for legalizing civil marriage in response to pressure from the public.

“After many Lebanese asked Sleiman to go ahead and legalize civil marriage in Lebanon, the president had to take that stance,” the source said.

Fifteen years after late President Elias Hraoui’s attempt to legalize state-managed weddings, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish have taken the initiative to challenge religious institutions and the government by signing a civil marriage contract and referring it to the Interior Ministry.

The couple argues that Decree 60 of 1936 makes them eligible to have a civil marriage since the law claims that Lebanese not belonging to any particular sect fall under a civil family law administered by the state.

While Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has ruled out the possibility of legally approving a civil marriage, the couple’s attempt has revitalized the debate on the issue.

Asked whether legalizing civil marriage would be placed on the Cabinet’s agenda, Mikati said that such a step would be useless amid the ongoing political developments in the country.

“This issue faced opposition and conflicts in opinions, and we don’t need to get into useless debates in these circumstances,” Mikati said.

“We should work on issues we agree on to bring opinions closer,” the premier added.

Sources from the Grand Serail said that Mikati’s comments have eliminated the possibility of having a debate on legalizing such marriages in Lebanon.

“Mikati does not want to fall in the same trap Rafik Hariri fell into during his term as prime minister,” the source said.

Despite Mikati’s refusal to discuss the issue, Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud asked the prime minister to put the issue on the Cabinet’s agenda next week.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2013, on page 3.

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