BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman called for civil marriage to be legalized in Lebanon, arguing that the step would help abolish sectarianism in the country and unite the Lebanese.
“We should work toward legalizing civil marriage, this would be one of the steps to abolish sectarianism and enhance co-existence,” Sleiman tweeted in Arabic Sunday morning, prompting a wave of reactions from members of the public.
Sleiman voiced his support for civil marriage just weeks after he came out against an electoral draft law that that would allow each sect to elect its own MPs. The president argued that the country needs to take steps toward abolishing sectarianism, not strengthening it.
The surprise move comes in the wake of news of a couple’s attempt to have a civil marriage in Lebanon, apparently prompting the president to support legalizing it.
Hundreds of Lebanese retweeted Sleiman’s statement and many described him as their “favorite Lebanese official” due to his stance on civil marriage. Others, however, criticized the president’s position, arguing that civil marriage would harm Lebanese society and its traditions.
Shortly after making the statement, Sleiman asked his followers on Twitter to tweet their opinions on the subject.
“From the very large number of interactions and replies I already received, the vast majority supports civil marriage,” the president said on Twitter Sunday evening.
Separately, Sleiman also said that civil marriage should be optional.
The renewed focus on civil marriage comes days after Kholoud Sukkariyeh and Nidal Darwish announced that they were in the final stages of registering the first civil marriage in Lebanon.
Before getting married, Sukkariyeh and Darwish decided to delete mention of their sects from their personal status records.
Sukkariyeh and Darwish signed their marriage contract on Nov. 10 of last year with the assistance of a lawyer who insists that Decree 60 (L. R.) of 1936 allows Lebanese who do not belong to a particular sect to have a marriage out of religious institutions.
Established under the French mandate, Decree 60 recognizes the right of each sect to manage the personal status laws for its members. The decree also applies to individuals who are not members of the country’s recognized sects.
In 2008, former Minister Ziyad Baroud passed a decree giving Lebanese the option of removing their religious and confessional identification from their personal status records.
The announcement of the couple’s marriage has mobilized civil society groups that presented a draft law two years ago to legalize such marriages.
Although Lebanon has recognized civil marriages conducted abroad since its foundation, there is no procedure for civil authorities, unlike religious institutions, to officiate marriages. Sleiman is not the first president to call for civil marriage to be legalized in Lebanon. Late President Elias Hraoui drafted a bill in 1998 that proposed granting Lebanese the right to optional civil marriage.
While the bill was approved by the Cabinet, it failed to reach Parliament after a last minute intervention by the country’s top religious figures.
A number of attempts to introduce civil marriage have failed to make progress since then. The draft proposal submitted by civil society groups to Parliament in March 2011 has yet to be discussed by lawmakers.