The Beirut Bar Association Thursday unveiled a draft law that if adopted would make civil marriage possible in Lebanon. Lebanon does not have a single personal status code. Laws covering marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance are administered by more than a dozen religious courts of the subjects’ sects, leaving couples that wish to wed in a civil ceremony just one option – get married abroad and register the marriage with their respective religious authority upon returning to Lebanon.
“Getting married abroad in a civil way, then having the marriage recognized in Lebanon – it’s ridiculous,” lawyer Zeina Obeid told The Daily Star. “At least [with this law] they can avoid traveling to other countries and conclude a civil marriage in Lebanon.”
Obeid led the Beirut Bar Association committee that drafted the law.
“Our law is about optional civil marriage,” Obeid added. “It’s to give the Lebanese people a choice – either you have a civil marriage or a religious marriage. It doesn’t attack religious marriage.”
Lebanon does have a law permitting civil marriage that dates back to 1936. The legislation, however, does not have a regulatory framework, prompting Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk in 2015 to issue a statement saying that the government will no longer recognize such marriages.
There have been other attempts to get a civil marriage law on the books, all unsuccessful.
The draft law has not yet been presented to Parliament, and there is no guarantee that it will be taken any further. Additionally, religious bodies that oversee civil status laws will want to weigh in on the matter.
But the Bar Association’s proposal has a few things going for it.
It borrows aspects from civil marriage laws of other countries, said Jennifer Farhat, a lawyer on the team that drafted the law.
“One of the main things that we established is equality between females and males by giving parental authority to both,” Farhat said. “Other things that we innovated with is to impose mediation in case of conflict at any point in time. You [would] have to go through mediation before going through divorce.”
And the committee itself reflects Lebanon’s multi-sectarian nature.
“What characterizes this committee is that we are lawyers from different political parties, different backgrounds, different confessions, and we were able to discuss ... and agree on a civil law that is a small scale of the Lebanese community,” Obeid said.
Maronite Bishop Semaan Abou Abdo told The Daily Star that, “The patriarch has said that he supports civil marriage, but we need a civil law that applies for all.”
“The Catholic Church believes marriage is a holy sacrament between man and woman, forever, with no divorce, no conditions. But why should I force [a person] to get married in church? Either he believes or doesn’t.” The Daily Star reached out to Sunni religious leadership at Dar al-Fatwa for comment but did not receive a response before publication.