“We state of our own accord and without any coercion, as equals in and before the law according to the preamble of the constitution and its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 16 of said declaration, that the man among us has taken the woman as his wife, and that the woman has taken the man as her husband …”
This is but one expression in the marriage contract signed by Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish, who were married in Lebanon’s first civil ceremony. As is the case with any Lebanese couple who chooses this form of union, they were supposed to travel to Cyprus, where civil marriage is permitted. But then Kholoud met by chance a civil society activist who proposed that Kholoud’s wedding be the first civil marriage held in Lebanon. Thus started Kholoud and Nidal’s journey.
“I was attending a lecture about the art of photography, and while waiting for Nidal, I noticed this poster saying: Let us get to know civil marriage and secularism before they take us to sectarianism,” Kholoud told NOW. “A woman came to me and said, ‘Secularism is not against religion,’ and I answered, ‘I know. Just because I am veiled this doesn’t mean I’m against secularism.’ And in order to prove my point, I told her that [Nidal and] I were getting ready to go to Cyprus to have a civil marriage.
“It was then that she told me about the attempt to celebrate the first civil marriage in Lebanon. I discussed the idea with Nidal, and we told her we agreed on condition of total anonymity, as we feared our parents would not accept it. We then met with [lawyer] Talal Husseini, who prepared the draft study, and had several sessions with him in order for him to make sure that we were ready for such a step.”
Preparations for the marriage began after Kholoud and her parents reached an agreement on “being spoken for” as per formal religious rules, without registering the marriage at a Muslim religious tribunal.
The first step was to strike out the mention of both Kholoud’s and Nidal’s sects from their respective IDs to prove before the law that they are not affiliated with a sect that forces them to marry before a religious court. They thus acquired the right to hold a civil marriage as per Article 60 L.R.
Then they had to obtain a form signed by the mayor proving that there are no objections to their marriage and put the marriage announcement up on a billboard 15 days before the wedding date to make sure that there were no objections to it. The announcement was supposed to be published in the Official Gazette or at least two newspapers, but in order to prevent any hindrances, Kholoud and Nidal just posted the announcement on the doors of their parents’ houses and on the door of their own house. They also had to obtain a legal document signed by a notary public after both parties chose the articles included in the marriage contract as well as a financial disclosure that guarantees the rights of each party to the marriage.
After a few snags in obtaining the necessary paperwork, Kholoud and Nidal signed their civil marriage contract on November 10, 2012, thus making them the first Lebanese couple to be wedded by civil marriage in Lebanon. The request is now in the hands of the Consultations Committee at the Ministry of the Interior pending its official announcement.
On the legal level, Husseini, who authored the draft, explained that “The marriage was held based on Decree No. 60 L.R. – a numeration of decrees adopted by the High Commissioner [during the French Mandate in Lebanon] – of 1936, which organizes and recognizes sects and grants them rights. The same decree also recognizes individuals, and we used this same law to strike out the reference to sect [on one’s ID].”
Applying Decree No. 60 L.R. for people who are not officially affiliated to any sect provides a solution for civil marriage, he added. “Not being affiliated to a sect does not mean not being a believer; it is merely not making an administrative disclosure of one’s sect and subjecting [instead] to civil courts.”
Lebanese law imposes constraints on enjoying the right to marriage, Husseini argues. “Let us suppose that a person wants to marry and there’s no law. This means there are no constraints to enjoying the right to marriage unless the marriage one is about to enter into contravenes the constitution, genera order or good ethics. Civil marriage is the only [form] that fits the constitution, which includes provisions about freedom and equality; it is the constitution, rather than religious marriage, that provides freedom and equality,” Husseini said.
Good-natured attempts to ensure the right to civil marriage in Lebanon, Husseini said, are often misdirected. “Some people were calling for a law pertaining to civil marriage and propose incomplete drafts that are not the object of enough study or serious public debate. In so doing, they act as though they need to give [people] the right [to choose civil marriage] and as though there is no legislation. Yet this is not true: Legislation does exist, and there is no way to misinterpret the provisions of Decree No. 60 L.R., which includes a reference to a law. This is either a reference to a French law – and this is the most probable option – or to a civil law according to the person’s own choice, or to any ample provisions for the organization of marriages.”
“The law allows the two people who wish to marry the right to choose the provisions that suit them in the contract. In contrast, religious marriage – or some forms of it – is subjected to the Ottoman family law with regard to certain provisions. When we say that Decree No. 60 L.R. is a reference to French civil marriage, this makes it part of the Lebanese law. Furthermore, the French law does not contravene the constitution or sectarian bylaws or public order, and is applicable in courts located in France, Turkey, Cyprus or Switzerland between Lebanese [couples] or [a couple formed by] a Lebanese person and a non-Lebanese person. In other words, it is applicable in Lebanese civil courts and this does not cause any problems.”
Kholoud and Nidal chose civil marriage because they believe it is the best expression of a relationship built on true partnership, equality and rejection of dependency. Will the Lebanese state adopt civil marriage as a gateway to break sectarian constraints and build a civil state?
This article was translated from the original Arabic