Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon
Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2013
For the past two weeks a rather large group of activists has been trying to take advantage of the new battle within the sunni community for the religious and political leadership of the community. This community is undoubtedly the most affected of all Lebanese communities by the recent changes and dynamics in the region: War in Syria, Brotherhood gains in North Africa, Surge of salafism as a local political force and a cross-national military force… All this adds and complicates the national dynamics: between localists, patriotic and transnational views, and differing ideologies (traditionalist, conservative, radical islamic, secularist, and liberal). Without these elements in mind, one cannot really understand the statement made by Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Mufti of the Republic (interesting title, don’t you think?), against the civil marriage proposal. Neither can one situate Saad Hariri’s “electoral promise” to support a civil marriage legislation (not actually put in so many words).
Choosing to blissfully ignore these dynamics, and trying to use the present conflict to further their “anti-confessional” program, the one infused by our educational system and nurtured by the dominant political and academic discourse, a great number of active members of our civil society have been digging out all kinds of arguments to support their aims. Here are a couple of arguments that I’ve come across on Facebook, and my epidermic reaction to them.
The classical argument!
“From the cradle to the grave”, the Lebanese citizens are locked in their communities. Gaby Nasr reformulates this argument when he says “From his birth record to his death certificate”.
Reaction 1: A sentence that fits pre-revolutionary France where vital records (état civil) were managed by the catholic church… In Lebanon, vital records are managed by the Ministry of Interior, and except for the conversion procedure, the religious authorities have no say in what is written in them (even if these records contradict their laws).
The economical argument!
“Had they all married in Lebanon, how much money would they have saved? How much money the Lebanese treasury would’ve made?”
Reaction 2: We could also vote a law banning honeymoons abroad. This would also save newlyweds a lot of money and provide the Lebanese treasury with more funds.
The “liberal” argument!
“And for those who are against civil mariage, let them limit their choices to themselves and their families [and not impose them on others]. ومن كان ضد الزواج المدني، فليحصر خياره بنفسه وبعائلته
Reaction 3: This argument presupposes that a new civil marriage legislation would not affect Lebanese citizens who chose or choose another marriage legislation (be it religious or civil). And this argument in itself is grounded in the assumption that there is no lebanese legislation on civil marriage. But in fact we do have a civil marriage legislation, one that introduces the first (and actually only) opt out mechanism in our personal law regime.
– It recognises all civil marriages contracted abroad by all Lebanese nationals.
– It provides that foreign civil marriage legislation will be applied to these marriages provided that at least one of the spouses does not belong to a muslim community. This is not a discriminatory provision but a kind of “protective clause” that was added in response to a vast political mobilisation within the muslim community against civil marriage. This provision/exclusion was NEVER challenged in parliament or even within civil society, not even by the “progressive” groups.
To cut a long story short, a new civil legislation will have two major affects on marriages between lebanese
1. Not only will it affect (on the medium or the long term) religious marriages (because it will be setting a standard against which a judge could eventually “measure” religious marriages… this is a worldwide tendency of which I know no exception).
2. But it will also modify the legal situation of Lebanese married under civil law abroad. The foreign civil marriage legislation will no longer be applicable in Lebanon, so all Lebanese married abroad will be subjected to the Lebanese legislation that will undoubtedly be more conservative than many foreign legislations. This is quite obvious from the past proposals, from the Lebanese parliament’s records on personal issues and even from the worldview of many of the the proponents of a new civil law legislation on marriage.
This new legislation will be annulling the only true “opt out” mechanism concerning religious law in our legal system (the one introduced by Ziyad Baroud allowing the removal of the communal affiliation from state registries actually only masquerades as one. It actually hands religious authorities a new “tutelage” mechanism and deprives the citizen of some rights that are provided by our system).
It will be substituting a liberal mechanism with a republican mechanism in a period where anti-liberals are flowering on the muslim political sphere and the christian religious sphere.