Lebanon: Civil Marriage Stuck in the Interior Ministry

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The first victory was removing any reference to his sect on his ID card, which enabled him to marry in Lebanon based on Decree 60, issued by the French high commissioner in 1936. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah).

By: Rajana Hamyeh

Published Sunday, January 12, 2014

In 2013, 10 civil marriages were conducted on Lebanese soil. Though good news, the facts on the ground do not bode well. A civil marriage conducted inside Lebanon is still treated as a precedent by the Lebanese state, with marriage paperwork being delayed by the Interior Ministry. Is the state stalling to ensure that civil marriage does not become an ordinary procedure?

Suleiman Kaspatian tied the knot with a civil marriage last August. He did not get married abroad as countless other Lebanese do. Armed with two significant victories, he stayed in Lebanon and married in the Chouf district.

The first victory was removing any reference to his sect on his ID card, which enabled him to marry in Lebanon based on Decree 60, issued by the French high commissioner in 1936: "People who do not belong to a particular sect are subject to civil law in personal status issues."

The second victory was ushered in by Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish, the young couple who succeeded in officially registering the first civil marriage contract signed on Lebanese soil with the Directorate General of Personal Status (DGPS) of the Interior Ministry.

After the honeymoon, Kaspatian went to register his marriage. Six months after filing his request, Kaspatian has not been able to celebrate his victory. The DGPS is still studying his file although Kaspatian said they did not request additional papers. “The last time I checked they told me, ‘Come back after the new year,’” he said.

The new year came and Kaspatian is still without an official document from the Lebanese state. Who is responsible for keeping Kaspatian and his wife without an official document that proves their marriage? Will it take a battle at the Interior Ministry with every case of civil marriage?

Fatima’s civil marriage is also in limbo at the Interior Ministry. She had assumed the paperwork was complete when she filed her request over a month ago, but the ministry did not request additional paperwork.

What’s going on then?

Suzanne Khoury, head of the DGPS, said the process does not resemble a battle. The proof? “Two marriages have already been registered, and the data on four more are being finalized,” she said. “Our intentions are sound. Even though we support civil marriage and hope to have civil law for personal status issues, we are obligated to closely check all the papers filed in case there is something missing. Being a civil marriage does not mean we have to rush to register it.”

According to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, codes and procedures require “studying the files in case there is something missing to ensure at least that the marriage is purely civil – not civil on the surface and religious underneath. This is what happened with Nidal and Kholoud. That’s the law and we have to implement it.”

That, in principle, is how it should be, but things have played out differently so far. Nidal and Kholoud waged a battle to officially register their marriage in the DGPS to ensure the “legitimacy” of their son Ghadi. After their victory, the interior minister emerged declaring their marriage a precedent, but tried to impose conditions, arguing that “to protect their rights and their children’s rights, spouses should not leave their religious communities pending a personal status civil law because there is no nineteenth sect in Lebanon.”

Today, there are 10 civil marriages, eight of them signed by notary public Joseph Bechara. In the Interior Ministry, there are four requests for civil marriage registration that have been under study for quite some time, and six requests are still under consideration.

But does a civil marriage chosen by two consenting adults in their own country require this much work? Maintaining civil marriage as a mere precedent does not give the Lebanese aspiring for a civil state their rights.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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