BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman tasked Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi with drafting a new law that would grant Lebanese couples the right to civil marriage as the debate over the issue continued to rage Tuesday.
Reiterating his support for optional civil marriage in Lebanon, Sleiman said that ministers should study a draft law proposal that was not adopted in 1998 and prepare a new law.
“If we fail to draft a new law, many MPs will submit a draft proposal in Parliament,” Sleiman told ministers at the start of the Cabinet session. “The most important pillars of national unity are an election law and a law regulating personal status,” he added.
The president criticized officials who have rejected discussing the means to legalize civil marriage a day after Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani issued a religious edict warning all Muslim officials against sponsoring such a law.
“Every Muslim official, whether a deputy or a minister, who supports the legalization of civil marriage, even if it is optional, is an apostate and outside the Islamic religion,” Qabbani said.
Sleiman said that the debate on the subject had been ongoing for decades, adding that it would be a violation of the constitution to reject its discussion.
“Since the 1950s, the debate on this issue has been ongoing, with the initiative of late President Elias Hraoui in 1998 and most recently by Kholoud Succaryieh’s decision to sign a marriage contract with the supervision of a public notary,” Sleiman said. “All this discussion is happening while a large number of Lebanese men and women are getting married outside Lebanon as if this country is not their nation.”
Addressing Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Sleiman said that Lebanon could remain stagnant while the world moved forward and that progress reaches Lebanon by trends ongoing in the region.
“We cannot overlook the aspirations of the youth regardless of their sectarian differences ... Refusing to address this issue in state institutions or refusing to approve a marriage is a violation of the Taif Accord,” the president said.
Sleiman, who has received praise from many members of civil society and citizens through social networking websites in the past week, said that the Constitution was clear in equality between Lebanese.
“Lebanon is part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1972 and it clearly states [the right to a consensual marriage] in Article 23 that mandates the right of marriage og individuals.”
Sleiman also said that Muslims should not consider his support of optional civil marriage as an attack against Islam because presidents are bound by the Constitution to defend national unity. “As I clearly stated in my opposition of the Orthodox Gathering [election law], my stance was not directed against Christians. Similarly, my stance on civil marriage is not directed against Muslims,” the president added.
“In the last Cabinet session that the prime minister headed when I was away in Russia, he considered that the subject is not suitable for the time being,” Sleiman added. The president has engaged in a Twitter feud with Mikati on the issue over the past few days.
Mikati, who has refused to place the issue of civil marriage on the Cabinet’s agenda, praised Sleiman for his statements but reiterated that it is not time to discuss the issue.
“Today we are facing many big issues, and we have many concerns and priorities that we should address instead of addressing this issue [civil marriage] at this time,” Mikati said.
Meanwhile, Metn MP Sami Gemayel criticized Qabbani for his edict against optional civil marriage, saying that such a declaration marks a violation of civil rights: “It is a violation of a person’s right to practice their beliefs, convictions and freedom of expression. It is the right of any Lebanese [citizen] to abide by religion or not, and we believe that any violation of that right is a violation of the Constitution.”
He added that forcing any citizen to do something either physically or mentally was punishable by law, and that every lawmaker was obliged to protect the right of freedom of belief.