I’ve written an essay for Jadaliyya that explores the long-term political implications of implementing civil marriage in Lebanon. As it currently stands, the wedding between Nidal Darwish and Khulud Sukkariyyeh has been rejected by the Lebanese government, even though the civil society organization that orchestrated the marriage had allegedly received assurances in the past from both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior (under Ziad Baroud) that the marriage could go forward.
Will Civil Marriage End Lebanon’s Confessional System?
In tying the matrimonial knot last week, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish sliced through a cultural, legal, sectarian knot of Gordian proportions. The pair became the first couple in history to be wed in a civil marriage on Lebanese soil. Until last week, Lebanese citizens (or, only those who can afford it) have generally traveled to Cyprus to get hitched. The only way to do the deed inside Lebanon requires a contract issued by religious personal status authorities, with all the legal implications and bureaucratic entanglements that such a requirement presents.
The civil society group that facilitated the union—al-Markaz al-Madani li-al-Mubadara al-Wataniyya (The Civic Center for the National Initiative)—took advantage of a hitherto overlooked law from 1936 known as Decree No. 60, which was passed during the French Mandate. The law recognizes the political and administrative powers of the different confessional representatives, and stipulates that individuals are bound by the personal status laws of their sects.
Attorney Talal al-Husseini–who is the principal architect of the civil society group’s strategy–told me last year that Decree No. 60 also states that if people do not belong to a particular sect, then they are subject to civil law, which—as it currently stands—does not exist for personal status issues in Lebanon. “It does not mention which civil law that they are subject to, but it is clear that the current practice of disallowing civil marriage in Lebanon is a clear contravention of Decree no. 60 and the Lebanese Constitution itself,” al-Husseini said.