Lebanon: gov't nixes first-ever civil marriage

To challenge sectarianism, couple marries on a technicality

22 January, 18:46

(ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, JANUARY 22 - Khulud, 30, and Nidal, 29, have been on the front pages of Lebanese newspapers for days: they are the first couple ever to marry via civil union in a country where such marriages are only recognized if they have been registered abroad, and it has become common for mixed-faith couples to marry in nearby Cyprus.

Counseled by activist lawyer Talal Husseini, the couple was able to circumvent the ban on civil marriages through a technicality, and thus challenge the law of the land in an effort to change social customs. Both of mixed Shiite-Sunni parents, Khulud and Nidal are observant Muslims from the Bekaa Valley.

''Civil weddings are not against religion,'' says Khulud, who wears a veil and directs a language school. ''We are believers, but we want Lebanon to be free from sectarianism, which divides instead of uniting the Lebanese people.'' Her sentiment was echoed on Sunday by the Lebanese president himself, Michel Suleiman, who is a Maronite Christian. ''We should work on drafting a civil marriage law. It is a very important step in eradicating sectarianism and solidifying national unity,'' Suleiman wrote on his new Twitter profile.

While the Lebanese constitution enshrines equal rights among all Lebanese with no ethnic or religious distinctions, the country is de facto divided into myriad religious communities, whose leaders invariably oppose reform. As was the case in 1998, when clerics blocked then-president Elias Hrawi's draft civil marriage bill. To please their families, Khulud and Nidal also had a religious wedding, but did not register it with the sharia, or Islamic law, tribunal. Interior Minister Marwan Sharbil, however, nixed their effort at civil union. ''We don't have laws regulating civil unions. Even if they got a notary public to sign off on it, who will judge possible future disputes over inheritance or divorce, and how?'' the minister asked. Ahead of parliamentary elections in June 2013, few politicians are likely to stick their necks out over such radical reform. (ANSAmed).

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