Civil Marriage Debate Divides Lebanon

Lebanon’s new Minister of Interior, Raya El-Hassan, has rekindled a long-standing debate about legalizing civil marriage.

Raya El-Hassan, the first woman to serve as a Minister of Interior in Lebanon and the Arab world. Photo: the Lebanese Interior Ministry

“Personally I would like to have a framework for civil marriage,” El-Hassan said in an interview with EuroNews television. “I will try to open the door to a serious and in-depth dialogue about this issue until there is recognition of civil marriage.”

Her remarks provoked a heated debate on social media, especially among the Lebanese and Arab communities. A series of hashtags have since been trending on social media, including “#civil_marriage,” “#yes_to_civil_marriage”, and “#against_civil_marriage.”

El-Hassan was supported by artists, politicians and civil society representatives such as Elissa, Paula Yacoubian and Zeinab Awada who called for the legalization of civil marriage in a country made up of many different religious sects, mainly Muslims and Christians.

“Is it possible to give your opinion about civil marriage without being accused of heresy? Yes, I am a proponent of the optional civil marriage and the civil personal status law. Enough with the use of religion to divide citizens,” said Walid Jumblatt, the president of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar published an article with a headline saying: “Civil Marriage…A Salute to the Bold Raya El-Hassan.”

El-Hassan faced some backlash as a result of her support, mostly from religious groups. Dar Al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni Muslim religious authority, says civil marriage fully contradicts the rules of Islamic sharia law.

Opposition to the minister’s remarks was also among some Lebanese communities abroad. Joyce Mansour, a Lebanese journalism student at the American University in Dubai, says she is against civil marriage. “It’s haram and illegal because it’s only a marriage in court, which makes the two individuals unmarried in several countries. In the end, I don’t think it should be made legal in any country.”

Yara Ward, a journalism student at AUD, does not agree. “I am for civil marriage because love does not know religion, race, or color,” she says. “Every citizen has the right to marry whoever they love without the need for religious controls. Respect for other religions is a duty, and the legalization of civil marriage will solve many problems.”

The only solution for Lebanese couples wishing to obtain a civil marriage is to get married abroad, and later register the marriage in Lebanon. According to the Ministry of Interior, about 2,500 civil marriages contracted abroad are registered each year in Lebanon.
A former minister of finance, Raya El-Hassan is the first woman to serve as a Minister of Interior in Lebanon and the Arab world. She was appointed in February 2019.

Translated from Arabic by Mira Matar

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