Lebanon's loved-up newlyweds hold hope that civil marriage will triumph
Even following Interior Minister Marwan Charbel’s Monday announcement that the government would not approve a recently executed civil marriage in Lebanon, the bride in question told The Daily Star that she has not given up hope of her marriage being upheld.
“What is in An-Nahar does not mean the minister is not going to sign,” Kholoud Succariyeh said of comments published in the Lebanese daily Monday. “We are still waiting. We are not making a judgment now.”
When announced Friday, Succariyeh’s wedding to Nidal Darwish catapulted the issue of civil marriage in Lebanon back into the public eye. Opinion is divided on the union’s legality and feasibility given the absence of secular law surrounding the institution of marriage.
Under the guidance of lawyer Talal Husseini, Succariyeh and Darwish followed a 10-month-long process, which in addition to the usual steps involved in making a marriage contract also included the removal of the couple’s religious identities from their public records. The process culminated in their marriage in Succariyeh’s family home on last Nov. 10, the bride told The Daily Star.
The couple took advantage of the 1936 Decree 60 L.R. – under which, Husseini is adamant, civil marriage is legal in Lebanon. But the final step in the process, the Interior Ministry’s approval of the marriage, appeared Monday to be an impossibility.
In remarks to An-Nahar, Charbel said: “The Interior Ministry referred the marriage request to the Justice Ministry’s advisory panel, which studied the request and did not approve it due to the absence of a law that regulates civil marriage.”
“Any similar request will not be [approved],” the minister was also quoted as saying.
Speaking to The Daily Star Monday evening, Charbel confirmed that the marriage could not be approved as there is “no law for civil marriage.”
The minister went on to list a series of unanswerable questions pertaining to Succariyeh and Dawish’s union.
“Where is the marriage registered? How does divorce take place? How does inheritance take place? All this requires a law,” he said.
Of the couple involved in the case, Charbel said: “They asked no one before having a civil marriage. They made a marriage contract that was approved by a public notary. Let’s say they want to divorce, do they go to the public notary as well – we don’t have such a law.”
As for the decree Husseini contends legalizes the marriage, Charbel argued it was designed to benefit two individuals – a Frenchman who wished to marry a Lebanese woman – and not the general public.
Also speaking to The Daily Star Monday, Husseini described the interior minister’s position as “invalid,” pointing out that Decree 60 L.R. is precisely the decree that establishes the legal presence of Lebanese sects.
Decree 60 L.R., of March 13, 1936, established religious courts, but also stipulated that citizens not belonging to a recognized confession fall under a civil family law enacted by the state.
“The minister is not a legal expert,” Husseini said. “[The couple’s] move is based on the Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ... and Decree 60. The Interior Ministry is obliged to register their marriage.”
Asked what course of action he would now take, Husseini said: “We’ll closely examine the marriage contract and we will announce something tomorrow [Tuesday].”
However, Salah S. Mattar, an attorney at law with the Mattar Law Firm, which has expertise in family law, believes it is unlikely that Lebanon’s so-called first civil marriage will receive approval, and that even if it did, the simple registration of the marriage would not resolve the legal problems surrounding it.
Admitting that there are multiple legal texts relating to the matter, Mattar said that in this instance the document of significance is the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure.
Under article 79 of this code, civil marriages executed overseas are recognized and governed by the law of the state in which they were conducted, but no mention is made of civil marriages in Lebanon. Effectively, this means that where civil marriage is concerned “there is an empty space that is not filled by laws,” he said.
“If you want to apply the civil marriage law [of Lebanon], there is no civil marriage law,” Mattar continued. “To make a case, you need to have a law. Suppose the minister accepted it [Succariyeh and Darwish’s marriage], what rules would apply? ... There is no law regulating status except that applicable to the religious community.”
“You can remove your religion from your personal status record, but this does not mean you do not belong to the religious family. The system as it is does not allow you to be a person that has no religious attachment,” he added.
Ultimately, while the couple’s move “may be an incentive toward the implementation of civil marriage in Lebanon ... from a legal and practical perspective, even if we would wish the contrary, it will be limited to a media propaganda,” Mattar had told The Daily Star even ahead of Charbel’s Monday remarks.
Indeed, the publicity surrounding the issue has brought debate on the topic back into the public sphere.
In his weekly article for the Progressive Socialist Party’s An-Anbaa newspaper, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt lauded Sleiman’s “progressive stance in supporting civil marriage.”
He said: “Establishing civil marriage in Lebanon may be a step toward achieving a breakthrough in the sectarian barriers erected by religious circles in all sects to preserve their interests and powers.”
For his part Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan praised Succariyeh and Darwish’s bravery.
“I praise the two citizens for having the courage to do what no official has dared to do,” Adwan told reporters at Parliament. “I want to tell them that we support you and we are ready to move things at the level of Parliament.”
However, while the interior minister told The Daily Star he was thinking about proposing a civil marriage law in parliament, he also said that doing so was “a double-edged sword.”
Such a law “is necessary now given that sectarianism has become deeply rooted in people’s souls,” he said, “but at the same time you need a suitable security and political atmosphere to [enact such a law].”
Asked what this means in practice, Charbel warned of the risks involved if any societal cohort were to oppose civil marriage. “These days any rejection could develop into a security problem,” he said.
By Niamh Fleming-Farrell, Wassim Mroueh
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