In Lebanon, it's against the law to marry against your sect so many 'outsource' their wedding to neighbor countries. But a cross-sectarian couple stroke a blow by… contracting a foreign marriage at home (loophole!). Debate is raging.
The sectarian-based Lebanese legislation makes it impossible to marry outside your sect. A Shia must marry a Shia, a Sunni a Sunni, a Druze a Druze, etc. As a consequence, thousands of cross-sectarian couples travel each year to Cyprus, or Turkey, or other neighboring nations in order to wed. These unions are recognized in Lebanon, as the country's legal system can apply the civil laws of the country in which the marriage was signed.
But groom Nidal Darwish and bride Kholoud Sukkariyeh broke that spell in Feb 9. With the help of their lawyer friend Talal al-Husseini, they found a loophole in the law that legitimizes civil marriage in Lebanon without the need to travel abroad. “The law in Lebanon from the time of the French mandate stipulates that if someone isn’t part of a sect he can’t be married by a sect, so the only place someone who doesn’t belong to a sect can get married is under civil law,” Husseini says.
This decree was originally intended for foreigners that marry Lebanese women because in 1936 all Lebanese belonged to a sect. However, in recent years Lebanese citizens have been allowed to strike out their sectarian affiliation from their identity papers. According to Husseini, this means the couple’s marriage has to be registered under civil law. As there is no Lebanese civil marriage law, he argues they can choose a foreign law, which in Sukkariyeh and Darwish’s case is the French civil code.
This legal argument was rejected by Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel. The state refused to register the couple’s marriage… and a heated national debate was triggered by the bold move of the two Lebanese lovers.
Despite of the ongoing controversy to legalize the couple’s marriage, their union has raised awareness among Lebanese people. As Darwish and Sukkariyeh toured TV shows to explain their action, Lebanese president Michel Sleiman publicly declared support, tweeting that "legalising civil marriage would be a step forward to abolish sectarianism and enhance co-existence.” But prime minister Najib Mikkati strongly opposed the marriage, backed by the Grand mufti of the Sunni community, who declared civil marriage supporters "apostates".
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