The short-lived case of civil marriage in Lebanon

By Myriam Sfeir
Submitted to Session P5256 (Gender, Law and Violence in Lebanon - feminist contestations post-Arab uprisings, 2018 Annual Meeting
Gender/Women's Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Lebanon is distinct from most Arab countries because it has 18 different religious sects that have different personal status codes and is the only Arab country that allows for civil marriages contracted outside the country to be registered in Lebanon. My presentation will focus on the topic of civil marriage in light of the confessional system in Lebanon. It will briefly highlight the several attempts to put forth a unified civil personal status law in Lebanon and the draft laws presented related to instating an optional civil marriage that didn't see the light. The presentation will shed light on the activism of NGOs and civil society organizations on the ground, and the stark opposition they often receive from the government and the religious establishment. The presentation will highlight the case of Nidal Darwich and Kholoud Sukkarieh, the first Lebanese couple who managed to contract a civil marriage on Lebanese soil. Thanks to the ground-breaking legal loophole lawyer Talal Husseini found, coupled with the willingness of Joseph Bechara, the notary public who accepted to endorse the marriage contract, Nidal and Kholoud were able to get married in a civil manner in Lebanon. The presentation will highlight how they managed to do it, the legal hurdles they endured, and the backlash and repercussions they faced in a confessional country like Lebanon where they were forced to leave the country to build a better future for their son. The presentation will also highlight the stance of the religious authorities both Muslim and Christian and their indirect influence in making the government revoke a previous decision taken in 2013 by the Consultations Committee at the Ministry of Interior to legitimize civil marriages contracted on Lebanese soil and allow for their registration. After registering several marriages, a change in ministers brought forth a change in law that has repercussions on a dozen of couples who are still struggling to have their marriages registered. This current refusal of the ministry to recognize such marriages constitutes a violations of human rights and the presentation will attempt to discuss some possible practical recommendations to solve this problem.