Why should everything logical be turned into a controversy in Lebanon, and why should commonsense modern laws be so agonizingly difficult to pass? I’m not going to discuss the shameful fact that Lebanese woman still does not have the right to naturalize her children or spouse, although that is one of the most backward signs of a nation ever. Today I’ll follow the trend and write about the Topic Du Jour, the proposed civil marriage law and the controversy it has stirred.
Should people get married in a courtroom if they choose to? Absolutely. In this day and age, this should be a no-brainer, but not in Lebanon, the land of puzzles, mazes and conspiracies.
To be clear: Civil marriage is legitimate in Lebanon; it is the act of performing the civil marriage ceremony that is not permitted by law. People are now demanding that parliament passes a new law legalizing it in country to assist the many interested couples. For years, men and women have been going through the expense and trouble of traveling to a foreign country to complete their civil union. They then return to Lebanon to live normally like any other married couple. It’s all happening under the noses of officials, religious figures, and all other naysayers.
Some religious personalities are uncomfortable because it chips away from their role and authority. There must be worse things for them to worry about than ostracizing anyone who publicly supports the new civil marriage law.
Lebanon is suffocating in contradictions and riddled by chaos. Yet, life fits in together like a perfect storm orchestrated to the last detail. I’m surprised that people in Lebanon even consider getting married in light of a lagging economy, a corrupt and unstable political system, poor living conditions, lack of serious work opportunities, rampant and cheap prostitution, and the nonflexible stance from most directions on most everything of interest to young couples.
What happened to supporting the notion of getting married for love? Maybe religious figures should worry more about the pattern of seeing young people more interested in pointless political arguments and empty activism while straying away from meaningful relationships and genuine love and friendship. They might want to look at the amount of unregulated prostitution going around and polygamists who seek the company of underage girls while they pretend to be faithful followers of a religion. How about serial cheaters who hide behind religion and show up to worship as if they are saints? A good religious figure should pay attention to their “flock” and the problems that plague it rather than focus his effort on preventing two people who truly love each other from entering into a civil marriage because they choose to be secular or because they belong to different faiths and have no interest in converting.
It is called a marriage contract for a reason. It is a contract between two people, they should enter it as consenting adults with full mental capacity and they should agree to all its terms and conditions. This is not about who is taking whom in marriage or who has the upper hand or who has the power to divorce. It is about agreeing on being together, equal in responsibilities and rights. Like any other contract, it also stipulates how a marriage is terminated should one or both parties choose to end the marital relationship. The marriage contract itself is not about religion. It is not about nationality either. It is solely about the union between two people under the same roof as they share what life offers them, and the responsibilities the two individuals bear to make it work. It is not much different from a contract we enter into with an employer or an agreement we sign with a contractor who is building us a house. If this weren’t the case, why then do we have to go to court to get a divorce when things don’t go well in a marriage? Those wed by a religious authority or judge whether in church, mosque or courtroom are the same; they end up in a courtroom if things don’t work out between them.
It is high time Lebanon starts focusing on real issues that plague its society instead of wasting resources, energy and airwaves on mixing the legal side of an issue with its ceremonial side. Keep the religious ceremonies out of the most serious contract. As couples settle ending a marriage in court, let it be agreed upon in court if so they choose.
This article was first published in Al- Nahar newspaper on Feb. 5, 2013 and on Octavia Nasr’s blog on Feb. 4, 2013.
Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks.