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Civil Marriage in Lebanon: A User's Guide

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It's been several weeks now since Lebanon's President Sleiman tweeted his support of civil marriage in Lebanon (#civilmarriageleb). Politicians and Twitter, always fun. It was in response to the story that broke several days earlier of a couple who were on the verge of being the country's first ever union outside a religious setting.

As it stands, the last hurdle is the Ministry of Interior. The guys in suits, headed by one Marwan Charbel, are keeping everyone on the edge of their seats with their decision. The couple in question, Kholoud Sukkarieh (now Sukkarieh Darwish) and Nidal Darwish found a loop hole in law from 1936 (when Lebanon was still under French mandate) that basically said, with no religious sect stated on public records, you could be married by a notary in a civil ceremony. Now, turns out this is legal in Lebanon and the Justice Ministry has themselves recognised it, it's just down to the Ministry of the Interior to give it the final seal of approval.

If this were to happen it would be amazing. Thing about Lebanon is that everyone living outside of it seems to have this image of it as a liberalised, non-conservative country. Sure, girls party in mini-skirts, couples do live together out of wedlock, and there are gay bars. But scratch a little and beneath the well coiffed and manicured surface and there is a society of hypocrisy and when it comes to civil status laws, like the Beirut River, it's pretty grim. Just to some up a few things: if a Lebanese woman marries a non-Lebanese man, she cannot pass on the Lebanese nationality to their children, this sees the children go without the rights normally afforded a citizen; a man can marry a woman he rapes, rendering her unable to see him prosecuted. It's true.

The irony behind the whole civil marriage thing is that you can get it outside of Lebanon and then just return to the mother country and carry on as normal. As one would imagine there is a huge support for the law to be changed or amended in favour of civil unions. Soon after the story of Kholoud and Nidal broke, a Facebook group was created and within a few days there were more than 25,000 members, many posting images of their weddings.

Rana Khoury, one such lady, told me that she's pleased about the support from Sleiman and Saad Hariri. 'However,' she said, 'if both just keep their statements to Twitter and TV and don't take any actual legal steps in parliament, we will be very disappointed.'

Of course, the haters of civil marriage are basing their reasoning on religious grounds. Apparently, according to one sheikh, if you have a civil marriage rather than a religious one, all hell will break loose - women will marry unsuitable men (outside of their sect) and the control over the population will be removed from the religious authorities hands. Deary me, a progressive move into the 21st Century, whatever next, 24hour electricity?