Civil weddings in Lebanon
Civil weddings are not allowed in Lebanon in 2009. In fact, marriages between inter-religious couples are only legal if they occur outside the Lebanese border. Till recently, it was obligatory for a citizen to declare their religious affiliation on official records.
In February 2009, the Interior Ministry granted Lebanese citizens the right to keep their faith private on official identification. This did not include recognising civil marriages. One of the political parties in the country is advocating the introduction of an optional civil personal status law in the country.
This is not the first time that an attempt has been made to make civil marriages legal in the country. A previous attempt took place back in 1998 when the then president forwarded a legislation to permit optional civil marriage to the Cabinet. The Cabinet approved it despite the objection of the then Prime Minister and some other ministers. However, when reaching the Parliament, it had to be shelved due to the strong resistance from the religious leadership of all sects.
Why should I be aware of this?
- Civil weddings are recognized in Lebanon, but they cannot take place inside the country.
- Marriage, divorce and inheritance are regulated according to the conventions of Lebanon's 18 recognized religions.
- People go to neighbouring countries such as Cyprus to get married. These include
- Couples who are Hindu, agnostic, Bahai, atheist, or members of any of the religions excluded by the country's constitution;
- Couples who come from different religions;
- And couples who share the same faith but see themselves as secular.
- Lebanon, which currently recognizes only civil marriages performed outside its borders, would benefit tremendously from the application of an optional civil marriage law.
- Such an arrangement would encourage mixed marriages and would also seek to institutionalize equality between genders on many levels, including that of marital rights, inheritance, and child custody as compared to most religious
marriages that favor fathers.
- Civil marriage would legalize adoption.
- Civil marriage would deprive religious leaders of power and financial interests
All about civil weddings in Lebanon
Lebanon is a democratic republic and is perhaps the most westernized and diverse of the Arab countries. However, with 18 religious communities coexisting after a 15-year civil war, it is still a country, like neighboring Israel, Jordan and Syria, that does not offer a choice to people who do not wish to surrender to the authority of religion.
Lebanon does not offer a legal alternative to people over matters pertaining to personal status such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.
Lebanon does not have civil marriage. In Lebanon, a marriage has to be conducted by a religious authority from one of the 18 registered sects. The bride and groom's sectarian identity has to be registered with the Vital Statistics Bureau on the marriage certificate. The registration takes place in the jurisdiction of husband's birthplace.
Those wishing to have a civil marriage must marry outside the country. In cases of interfaith relationships, either partner can convert to the faith of the other for the purpose of marriage. The civil marriage of a couple married outside Lebanon is recognized by the Lebanese authorities on the condition that the marriage should be officially registered in the Lebanese Embassy or Consulate in the country where it took place.
Though recognised by the government, mixed-religion marriages that have been performed outside Lebanon, are largely frowned upon by the society. Apart from mixed-religion couples having to marry abroad, they also face problems with respect to divorce, custody and inheritance laws. Because the laws governing married status and inheritance are completely different for Muslims, Christians and Druze, after a while some spouses convert for purely pragmatic reasons.
Lebanese Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), some intellectuals and political parties have been trying to push forward this issue but have been facing strong opposition with the Sunni religious authority response being the most radical. The Shiite Muslim position towards this draft law has been moderate. The Christians’ opposition to the law has stemmed partly from the Christian-Muslim bargaining process.
The influence of religious authorities in Lebanon is quite powerful. Not all Lebanese are convinced that a civil society will be in their interest.
What can I do about it?
- Help secure a place for civil marriage in Lebanon.
- If you are based in Lebanon, get this legal aspect of your wedding out of the way at least 9 weeks before your wedding date and that you understand the requirements and marriage regulations. Requirements may vary as each locale in Lebanon could have their own requirements.