Valentine’s Day 2009 was a sight to behold in one Beirut bar: several inter-religious couples “married” in mock weddings at the bar in the city’s trendy Gemmayze district to protest the country’s strict inter-marriage laws.
Civil weddings between inter-religious couples are only recognized if the marriage doesn’t tale place on Lebanese soil. The Valentine ceremony took place just a few days after Interior Minister Ziad Baroud declared that citizens may now remove their religious identity from their national IDs if they so choose.
Many Lebanese bloggers applauded the ID card reform, although others remain skeptical. Although this move initially only removes reference to one’s religion, the aim is to remove religious law altogether, and reach a civil law which will apply to all citizens, leaving religion a personal matter. Many young Lebanese people feel that even more reform is needed.
In or Out of the Big 18
In Lebanon you can only belong to the 18 religions that the Lebanese constitution recognizes, which means you’re on the outside if you’re say, a Hindu, an agnostic, or a Bahai, and have no civil status. Many suggest that Minister Baroud’s decree may be a smokescreen because it only removes “reference” to one’s religion, but religion will continue to determine who votes and who runs for public office.
Inter-Marriage: What’s the Price?
In the struggle for civil marriage, there are currently not-very-pretty realities in regards to inter-religious relationships and marriages in Lebanon, especially when it comes to the treatment of women. There’s a candid summary of this by a Hanibaal from Lebanon Iznogood on the Global Voices website.
Hanibaal reveals that in Lebanon, the two parties involved in an inter-religious marriage aren’t allowed to keep their own individual religions; usually, the wife has to abandon her religion and convert to her husband’s in order to be allowed to marry him. Honour killings are still protected by the law in Lebanon when it comes to women who have or are alleged to have had affairs.
Religious ID: How Deep Does it Go?
In the light of such realities, the option to remove one’s religion from their ID cards is truly groundbreaking, yet it also seems to me that in its own way it’s heartbreaking as religion is such a fundamental part of ID for many of us.
Still, this step in the direction of reform and acceptance may hopefully be the first link in a chain of events that also make civil inter-marriage possible for young Lebanese couples that have crossed the line of faith to be together.