Monday, August 15, 2022

In Lebanon, heated debate erupts over how to say ‘I do’

BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — Dona-Maria Nammour was looking for a love story. The night she first met Mazen Jaber, they danced for hours.

But their story is more about a happily-ever-after romance than a sociable one. It is also about sectarian politics in his native Lebanon and his rival view of civil rights, the role of religion, and how the troubled country progresses.

When the couple decided to get married, they wanted a civil ceremony, not a religious one – and not only is she Catholic on paper and she is Druze; They also wanted to leave religious officials out of their marriages. “It’s the best option for equality between us,” Nammour said.

So they went to Cyprus to tie the knot.

In Lebanon, an on-again, off-again debate over who can take such civil marriages inside the country, and for whom, is controversial and mired in religious and political entanglements.

The issue has escalated again after some recently elected lawmakers asked on television whether they would support an “alternative” civil marriage. Angered by this, those insisting on marriage should remain under the purview of religious authorities.

Civil marriage proponents argue that the cultural fight to say “I do” is part of a larger fight about increasing civil and individual rights, eliminating religious power within the country’s sectarian system, and ultimately removing sectarian divisions. Is. Politics and beyond.

Leela Awada, a secularist, feminist, lawyer and co-founder of KAFA, said, “The outrage of the communal system has increased the demand for a citizenry as the communal system is negatively affecting our economic life and has been used to cover up corruption.” Inspiring to.” A personal status law advocacy organization that would include civil marriage for all.

Opponents called civil marriage an insult to the faith and said it would open the door to legalizing myriad practices that violate religious rules and teachings. The new MPs rose against the stance: a Muslim cleric called it a war on God.

The MPs are part of a small group – informally called “change seekers” in Arabic – that won the election in May, building on a protest movement that challenged traditional parties. They are up against a deeply sectarian system and a political elite blamed by many for Lebanon’s woes.

Home to many officially recognized religious beliefs, one’s faith in Lebanon can open and close doors. The presidency is given to a Maronite Christian, the presidency is given to a Shia and the prime ministership to a Sunni, and parliamentary seats are divided on the basis of religious affiliation.

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Memories of the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990 are still fresh, with some fearing that disrupting the delicate power-sharing formula could lead to chaos. Others accuse political leaders of fueling such concerns to retain power and by giving jobs to members of their religious communities and strengthening communal loyalty, undermining the state in the process.

When it comes to marriage, divorce and child custody, Lebanese faith groups legally govern the affairs of their communities. Supporters say it protects religious freedom and diversity.

Civil rights activists, however, accuse religious courts of discriminating against women, saying that on these major family issues, Lebanese are treated differently based on their religious affiliation.

Civil marriage seekers usually travel abroad – Cyprus is a preferred destination.

Nadar Foz, 37, also chose a civil marriage, even though he and his wife share a religious affiliation.

They opted to leave the country for their 2020 wedding and instead challenged the status quo by marrying in Lebanon. After grabbing religious references from their state records, the couple married under an old decree, which was cited to argue the defense of a civil ceremony for religiously unaffiliated people.

“We wanted to say that this right exists in Lebanon … but the political authorities are blocking it and the religious authorities are pressuring it to stop so that they can maintain their own interests,” Fauz said.

Based on the experiences of some other couples, they did not expect the Lebanese authorities to fully register their marriage and issue them the customary family ID. So he didn’t bother to look for one.

“This is not this grand revolutionary act,” Fauz said. “But it is a document of protest before the ruling system.”

Later, they had a civil marriage in Cyprus and eventually relocated there.

Joseph Bechara, a notary who carried out their wedding in Lebanon, said they have held dozens of similar ceremonies since 2012. Some registered completely, but many others were blocked by “executive impediments”.

Proponents of placing marriage in the hands of spiritual authorities defend the current personal status system.

Sunni religious judge Khaldoun Oraymet said, “We have an Islamic sharia that we follow, and that sharia is in no way an obstacle against social unity.”

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With the country struggling in the midst of an economic downturn, which has led to a lack of necessities such as electricity and has prompted many to move elsewhere and seek opportunities, Ormet and others have argued that the issue of civil marriage should be addressed. To raise is now to divert attention from more important problems.

“People now need electricity, water, fuel and a solution to unemployment,” he said.

Rev Abdo Abu Kasm, director of the Catholic Center for Information, agreed, saying, “Does Lebanon’s salvation come through a civil marriage law? Shouldn’t we pull ourselves out of the pit we are in?”

Lawyer Avada said it was because of such crises that the change was needed.

Abu Qassem said that his church does not accept civil marriage as an alternative to religious Catholic ceremony and would oppose an alternative civil marriage law because “we should not confuse people or put them in a position that is not theirs.” to shake the faith.”

He said the Church would follow the law if the state mandated civil marriages, but still urged its followers to have Catholic marriages as well.

For Nammour and Jaber, a civil marriage was a no-brainer. On paper they belong to different faith groups, and in fact, she identifies as an atheist and does not like to put a label on her beliefs. But it is also about rights “in a patriarchal society that gives men the upper hand,” Nammour said, adding that he would have opted for a civil marriage regardless of faith background.

Just before the latest brawl broke out, Nammour and Jaber exchanged vows in Cyprus. One of his cousins ​​doubled up as both guest and witness as the trip proved too expensive for the other family members. Nammaur took Jaber’s hand, looked into his eyes and promised to share his happiness and sorrows forever.

“Mabrook,” said the wedding official, congratulating the newlyweds in Arabic as they kissed and hugged.

Now in Beirut, Nammour believes that the struggle to gain civil marriage rights will be a long one.

“Probably not in the lifetime of our generation,” said Nammour, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child together. “But it will happen.”

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The Associated Press religion coverage is supported by the Associated Press’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.

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