Esteemed Minister, Pending at your desk is a civil marriage contract signed on Lebanese land by two Lebanese citizens. The issue before you is of great importance for our country and beyond. I urge you to approve the request to register this contract in the appropriate state records, “sijilat al-nufus.”
The bride and groom, Khulud Sukaria and Nidal Darwish, have complied with standard Lebanese marriage law procedures such as publication of marriage intent and obtainment of required documents from a notary public and “mukhtar.” They have also removed reference to sectarian identification from their administrative state records.
Article 10 of decree RL 60 makes very clear, in both its Arabic and French official versions, that it is the civil personal status code, rather than any religious code, that applies to citizens without sectarian identification in state records. Civil marriage has thus been a part of Lebanese law that applies to citizens without sectarian identification ever since decree RL 60 was issued in 1936.
What is before you is a case in which two citizens have chosen to act on their legal rights under Lebanese law. What I am asking you to do is to enforce their legal rights.
I will not dwell further on the legality of the marriage contract. The necessary legal documentation and evidence is at your disposal. In addition, an in-depth memorandum has been submitted by the respected public intellectual Talal al-Husseini, and a strongly favorable legal opinion has been submitted by the internationally renowned lawyer Professor Ibrahim Fadlallah.
We are at a critical moment in the history of our country and of the region. It is no secret that religious fundamentalism is on the ascent and that sectarian apprehension, and animosity in Lebanon have not been greater since the end of the Civil War. The outbreaks of deadly violence in many parts of the country are a horrifying reminder of these dangers.
In your capacity as minister of interior, you have led efforts to clamp down on these outbreaks. You have also repeatedly emphasized that the outbreaks result from deeper problems that must be resolved if we are to ever know permanent peace and stability.
With the civil marriage contract now pending on your desk, you have the opportunity to resolve a problem that is at the very core of our socio-political tragedy. The terrible institutional walls that separate us Lebanese from one another, that cage us and prevent us from coming together as one people, can now be lifted in matters of personal status.
Prior to removing reference to their sectarian identification, Khulud and Nidal were registered as “Sunni” and “Shiite.” At this time of explosive Sunni-Shiite tension, the positive message that would be sent to Lebanon and to the region by recognizing their made-in-Lebanon civil marriage cannot be overstated.
You also have the opportunity to put an end to the ongoing charade by which Lebanese who wish to get married by a civil contract must do so abroad and can only then register their marriage at home.
The status quo is one in which these Lebanese are treated as second-class citizens. They – and only they – are forced to choose between having to leave Lebanon in order to marry according to their values, on the one hand, and marrying in their own country at the expense of their convictions, on the other.
The status quo is also one in which the Lebanese state cedes its sovereignty. It recognizes a civil marriage contract signed by two of its own citizens if – but only if – the contract is concluded in a foreign jurisdiction.
A historic decision awaits you.
By approving the request to register the contract in the appropriate state records, “sijilat al-nufus,” you will be remembered as a public servant who enforced the law in a country in which it all too often goes unenforced, as a defender of personal liberties and of human rights, and as a wise statesman who by the single stroke of a pen helped reclaim state sovereignty and extinguish the flames of sectarian strife.
Moreover, by approving the request to register the contract, you will be translating the bold position taken by the President of the republic Michel Sleiman on his Twitter feed: “We must work on legalizing the civil marriage contract for it is one step toward abolishing sectarianism and consolidating coexistence.”
A great many in my generation, the postwar generation, yearn for a Lebanon that is truly pluralistic, democratic and governed by the rule of law. A Lebanon in which all rights, individual rights and community rights, are recognized and enforced.
Do not default on your obligation to enforce the legal rights of Khulud and Nidal.
History will judge you accordingly.
Abdallah Salam is a doctoral student at Oxford University where he currently holds a lecturer position at St. John’s College. His research focuses on legal and moral philosophy. He received a bachelor degree in economics from Harvard University and can be reached at email@example.com.