Last updated: 20 January, 2013

Lebanese president backs civil marriages

President Michel Sleiman on Sunday expressed support for a law allowing civil marriages, currently illegal in Lebanon, saying it will help build unity in the multi-faith Middle Eastern country.

“We should work on drafting a civil marriage law. It is a very important step in eradicating sectarianism and solidifying national unity,” Sleiman wrote in Arabic and English on his Facebook page.

His views appeared alongside a photo of a man carrying his daughter on his shoulders at a rally. She is seen holding a stuffed animal and a sign reading “civil marriage, not civil war.”

After only four hours online, Sleiman’s post garnered more than 1,700 likes and elicited a string of comments, overwhelmingly in favour of the law.

On his Twitter account, Sleiman further asked his followers to share their opinions about civil marriage in Lebanon.

Famed Lebanese singer Elissa tweeted: “Might civil marriage encourage our politicians not to hide behind their fingers and enrich diversity in our beloved country.”

Despite a long-running campaign by civil groups, such weddings still have no legal basis in Lebanon, a tiny country of around four million people who belong to 18 different religious communities, mainly Christian and Muslim.

Former President Elias Hrawi in 1998 proposed a similar law, which gained approval from the cabinet only to be halted amid widespread opposition from the country’s religious authorities.

Most religious faiths have their own regulations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, and mixed Christian-Muslim weddings in Lebanon are often discouraged unless one of the potential spouses converts.

The Lebanese authorities recognise civil weddings only if they have been registered abroad, and it has become common for mixed-faith couples to marry in nearby Cyprus.