Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2013

pepe2For 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.

5 Responses to “Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon”

  1. ghidaf said

    I’m sorry but I really don’t agree with your arguments. Civil marriage for ALL and a civil personal status law are THE key element to establish a State based on citizenship rather than “communautarism” and to ensure that the laws governing us in this matter can reflect the progress of society as this is not the case with religious laws.

    Reaction 1: The civil records are divided into religious community records. The Ministry of Interior registers every citizens on the records of the religious community of his/her father. So birth and death are registered on the religious community records held by the State. As such you are born into a religious community and die out of one. In the eyes of the State, you are not a citizen, you are a member of a religious community.

    Reaction 2: this is not even a reaction. You cannot compare the funds coming out of a personal status act (an act that has direct consequences on your rights and duties in society) to the funds coming out of a leisure activity such as tourism travel.

    Reaction 3:
    – The civil marriage law we have is forcing us out of our country and forcing us to fall under legislation enacted by people who are not accountable to us. Say I marry in Turkey and the Turkish parliament suddenly decides to change its marriage law and limit women’s right to divorce. I have no say in that amendment, yet it will be enforced on me.
    – The civil marriage law we have is discriminatory against those who officially belong to the Muslim community. You call it a protective clause but in fact it is making sure that no two (officially) Muslims can escape Muslim family law. It is precisely what we are trying to fight.
    – I’m not sure what proposal you’re looking at but it is true that the civil society needs to rally behind one proposal to unify the demands. Some of the proposals (such as Shaml’s) specify that those who contracted a civil marriage abroad are given the option to follow either the laws of that foreign country (as is the case now) or the new Lebanese civil personal status law. The idea is just to give them the option. It is an absurdity and irregularity to force them all to fall under the new law. I agree with you that this is a consequence we should absolutely avoid but I don’t agree with you that it will definiteley be a consequence of a civil personal status law.

    • Thank you for your reply Ghidaf.

      • I believe we actually agree on “reaction 2”, it’s simply an impulsive reaction (as the title of this entry indicates) to a VERY silly argument. So I don’t see any problem with it being silly. It’s meant to be disparaging.

      • Elsewhere, you drew my attention to a very interesting point that I hadn’t actually thought of: the effects the modification of a foreign legislation could have on a marriage contracted by two Lebanese abroad.
      Thanks for pointing out this interesting legal issue. You are right, it seems, at first glance, rather problematic. But if you look at it more closely, you realise that this uncertainty is a risk that any person takes when getting married, but also when buying property, voicing her opinion, writing a blog and even replying to one… Laws can change, and these changes affect rights and duties. Even a legislation protecting citizens from legal changes can be changed… So in a strictly legal perspective, the problem you point out is not really an issue. It can only seem problematic if one choses to substitute a legal perspective (the one I have taken in my argument) with a political perspective (the one you’ve followed in your argument). But by doing so, we will be entering a political debate that will undoubtedly lead us nowhere.

      • I’m not saying that all political discussions are worthless. Some can be quite interesting, and others truly important. But in many cases, the arguments have to be restated in order to allow for a fruitful discussion. It would take me far too long to restate four of the arguments you presented here (I’m a despairingly slow writer and these arguments are rougher than an uncut diamond). So please forgive me for not reacting to them. However, I hope to tackle some of them in a forthcoming post: “How damaging can the anti-confessionnal rhetoric be?”

  2. ghidaf said

    Well, I look forward to your next post then. I cannot comprehend what it means to be a “progressive confessionalist” as confessionalism is in my view one of the most retarded and oppressive human positions or regimes.

    I will only add for now that the principle of accountability is not simply a political concept as you have implied, it is a legal concept. You can render your officials accountable to you in a court of law (e.g. when they adopt an unconstitutional law) or in a political forum such as elections. It is the basis of any well-functioning society.

    • You know, we could argue for hours on qualities and definitions. But I’m not sure that would be of any interest to either of us.
      I’m no great fan of essentialism, and believe definitions to be stipulative. They are rarely “true” or “false” but mostly “useful” or “useless”, and this can only be asserted in a given argument.

      Here are some options pertaining to your value-laden definition of “progressive confessionalist”:
      1. You stick to your definition, and assume that my worldview/positions are retarded & oppressive.
      2. You stick to your definition, but consider that my worldview/positions are not retarded & oppressive, thus disqualifying me from this tag.
      3. You stick to your definition and deduce from our discussion that my worldview/positions are retarded & oppressive.
      4. You put aside your assumptions on what “progressive confessionalist” could mean and try to see how this self-ascribed progressive-confessionalist understands these two words.
      5. You discard all definitions of “progressive confessionalist” because self-ascribed tags don’t tell you what a person is but only show you how that person projects/defines himself/herself in a given situation.

      I personally don’t believe a value-laden definition to be useful in any of the aforementioned options, not more than a tag (self-ascribed or imposed) in most arguments😉

  3. […] Update: [more roundup] خضر سلامة : الزواج المدني حقي Worried Lebanese: Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon Asharq Alawasat: مقبرة «الزواج المدني» Walid Abboud surveys his facebook […]

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