For the first time ever in Lebanon, the Minister of Interior, Marwan Charbel, officially signed on April 25, 2013 the first civil marriage contract ever in the country as reported by the Lebanese National News Agency. This step allows the registration of the contract in the civil registers.
The Agency also reported that “the Minister of Interior, Brigadier General, Marwan Charbel, signed off the civil marriage contract between Nidal Darwish and Kholoud Sukkariyya; the first Lebanese couple to conclude such marriage [on the Lebanese territories]… in the official registers at the General Directorate of Personal Status,” confirming the necessity of registering this contract that was previously rejected by the directorate.
On another level, the couple considered that signing the contract is a “victory” and “a historic step” for the civil rights in Lebanon. Darwish said in an intervention on a media outlet: “Our marriage is the first victory for the civil state in Lebanon which we all dream of, the state of the human and the citizen.”
On her part, Kholood said: “This is the first historic step” to civil marriage in Lebanon. The Lebanese President, who supports enacting a civil marriage law, congratulated the young couple and wrote on his official Twitter account: “Congratulations for the registration of Kholoud and Nidal’s civil marriage.”
There is no law for civil marriage in Lebanon, but Kholoud and Nidal, who are from the same religion but different sects, wanted to defy this ban, so they crossed out their sects from the register of personal status, a step which the Lebanese became able to make after enacting a law for this purpose in 2011.
The issue of civil marriage is highly controversial in Lebanon, where the different religious sects and confessions enjoy full authority over the issues of personal status.
The former Lebanese President, Ilias Hrawi, proposed in 1998 enacting the law of “optional civil marriage”, but the draft law was never enacted as a result of the fierce opposition campaign it faced, especially by the religious authorities.
Each of the 18 confessions in Lebanon organizes its followers’ personal statuses, so mostly those who wish to marry and they belong to different sects face intense social pressures. However, regardless of that, many people who belong to different sects do get married either by having one of the couple change his/her sect or by moving to another country, mostly Cyprus, to conclude a civil marriage that the Lebanese law recognizes if it is concluded outside Lebanon.
Every now and then, the issue of civil marriage is deliberated in the Lebanese media, political and social circles. Following this official decision to register a civil marriage for the first time ever, some observers expect that this will pave the way for many similar cases and for legally legislating this marriage, despite the reservations of the religious institutions and authorities that have their own juristic opinions and considerations regarding civil marriage. Some consider that the best way out is to open a comprehensive dialogue in which all parties participate and discuss the matter objectively and thoroughly, especially in such a diverse society at the confessional and human levels.
His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) touched on the issue of civil marriage and its details through a clear view and approach, pointing out to three main points as follows:
The first is represented by the formal aspect of the marriage, which is the contractual aspect about which one can raise the question: Does the validity of the marriage depend on a certain formula that the couple ought to recite for their marriage to be legitimate or is this not a prerequisite? For many jurisprudents consider that for the marriage to be legitimate, the formula recited must be as follows: I wed myself to you… etc.
Based on this prerequisite, some jurisprudents deem civil marriage illegitimate as it does not include the aforementioned formula. However, according to our opinion, we consider that the civil marriage can be concluded by any formula that reflects the contractual commitment to the content agreed upon by the man and the woman, in a way that it is considered a voluntary binding status, just as any other contract they conclude for any dealings. As such, we do not consider that the marriage ought to be concluded by a certain formula as a condition; rather, anything that signifies that it is concluded is enough, knowing that marriage can even be concluded by writing down the formula. Therefore, we do not consider that there is a problem in civil marriage from this aspect, for we know that it certifies the marriage contract between the two parties.
The second is that civil marriage only demands adulthood, rationality and maturity as conditions and nothing else; whereas, Islam has other conditions in this respect. For example, in Islam the Muslim man is not allowed to marry an atheist who does not believe in any religion, or the women who believes in religions other than the known Divine religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the like. Therefore, any contract between a Muslim man and any woman from the aforementioned cases is invalid, whether it is concluded by the formula demanded by the majority of Muslim religious scholars or the common formula of civil marriage.
His Eminence (ra) continues: Perhaps, this is the main problem around which revolves the dispute over civil marriage between those opposing it and those favoring it, considering that it represents the solution to many problems the Lebanese suffer from when the mixed marriage is wanted to be acceptable and recognized in the Lebanese courts and registered in the personal status directorates.
From the viewpoint we hold regarding the terms of the formula by which the marriage contract is concluded, Islam deems marriage between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman or between a Muslim man and a woman from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) valid, even if it is concluded by a civil marriage, and it deems the marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man or between a Muslim man and a woman who is not from the People of the Book invalid, even if it was concluded according to the Islamic method.
The third is that the marriage contract in Islam cannot be ended or abrogated except by two ways, either divorce or abrogation if both or one of the spouses has certain flaws. Whereas, in civil marriage, ending the marriage contract is subjected to the adopted civil laws, which is a negative point from the Islamic viewpoint… for divorce might take place in the [civil] court away from the juristic conditions stipulated by the Sunni or Shiite school of thought, which means that the marital relation remains standing even if divorce is issued by the civil authorities.
Therefore, civil marriage differs in terms of the form and content from the Islamic marriage, which does not enable us to legislate civil marriage as a contractual structure that embodies many legislations that are different from the Islamic legislations, for Islam might deem a legal marriage from the civil point of view illegitimate from the Islamic point of view, and it might deem a legal divorce from the civil point of view illegitimate from the Islamic point of view.
His Eminence (ra) adds that when civil marriage is concluded between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman, then it is considered, according to the matter we discussed based on our jurisprudential opinion, regarding the contractual form of marriage, a legitimate marriage in terms of its form… Moreover, it is natural to say that the spouses ought to abide by the Islamic rules that govern this marriage as well as the way of ending it. When two spouses end their marriage in a way other than the Islamic way, then they are not conforming to the rulings of the Islamic Shariah in this respect and they would be a married couple by the religious formula adopted by most jurisprudents when they [the couple] deviate from religious rulings in their marriage.
[Islamic contemplations about the woman, p: 136 and afterwards]