Many countries make it hard to marry someone from another religion – change is needed
Around two dozen countries have no provision for civil marriage
ARMAN DHANI, an Indonesian journalist who is Muslim, broke up with his Catholic girlfriend of five years when he reached the heartbreaking conclusion that they would never be able to marry. Indonesian officials refuse to register inter-faith marriages because the law does not mention them. “My mother said: ‘If you want to marry her she must convert to Islam,’” he says. “But I didn’t want to make her betray her religion.” He felt he could not change religion either. “If I converted to Catholicism I would become dead to other Muslims.”
Indonesia is one of about two dozen countries with no provision for civil marriage. Others include Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and almost all Arab states. Only unions conducted according to the rules of officially recognised religions can be registered. In Indonesia children of unregistered unions cannot get birth certificates, without which they struggle to receive health care or schooling.
Some couples of differing faiths, or none, go abroad for a civil ceremony. Each year about 3,000 couples from the Middle East get married in Cyprus, which brands itself the “island of love”.
Campaigns to introduce civil marriage are afoot in many countries. But governments often fear angering politically powerful religious groups. In Lebanon marriages and other matters of family law, such as divorce and inheritance, are left to the religious courts of 18 Muslim, Christian and other sects. This allows politicians to sidestep the tricky task of crafting family laws that would be acceptable to leaders of all those faiths. In Indonesia, says Mr Dhani, both Muslim and Christian leaders fear that an inter-faith marriage would inevitably end up with one of the partners converting.
In many places, anyone who dares to wed across religious lines faces ostracism—and perhaps even violence. Getting rid of legal barriers would not remove all the risks. But it would help, a bit.
As published in The Economist 18th February