While some assert that there is no law in Turkey and the judiciary has completely retrogressed, the Constitutional Court is making the most democratic and liberal decisions in its history. As for leftist intellectuals, they are maintaining ridiculous objections since they cannot escape ideological categories. Recently, they collected signatures to protest a decision by the Constitutional Court regarding religious marriage, arguing that civil marriage has been discredited and that young girls are forced into marriage and polygamy at an early age. However, early marriage and polygamy are already defined as a crime by the Turkish Penal Code and these acts are punishable by up to 16 years in prison. Actually, the incident is very didactic. On the one hand, it is an example of the fact that Turkey is heading toward the supremacy of law despite the struggle in the judiciary. On the other, it reveals how the ideological conflict can hide and manipulate the truth.
Some time ago, a criminal complaint was filed against a couple who was married with a religious ceremony only without a civil marriage in the eastern province of Pasinler. The female judge of the court referred the case to the Constitutional Court during the judicial process, asking a simple question: "Why is the cohabitation of religiously married couples considered a crime, while the cohabitation of unmarried couples is not counted as an offense?" After all, in law, couples married with a religious ceremony have the status of "unmarried." The decision and evaluation that the Constitutional Court made on the case had two basic premises. First, this issue was defined as a part of individual rights and freedoms, indicating that individuals must be free to choose their partners at will and the kind of relationship they will form. Second, religious marriages must be considered a part of the basic freedom of thought and faith.
In response to this, the Constitutional Court agreed in its written justification that these rights can be restricted by the Criminal Code and approved of the public authority's reasons to enforce civil marriage. This is because some rights of women are protected by civil marriage alone. The court also emphasized that this enforcement must be moderate within the context of universal human rights. To what extent is the enforcement of civil marriage by the Turkish Penal Code moderate? Is it possible to achieve the same result by less restricting freedoms?
One of the determinations of the court is that everyone now knows that they cannot exercise some of their rights without a civil marriage. Turkey is no longer a country of ignorant women of 20 years ago. The schooling rate of women has surged over 95 percent from 55 percent in 2002. Economic development and urbanization have radically transformed the sociological meaning and institution of marriage. Therefore, it is an immoderate attitude to interfere in private life apart from informing about and encouraging civil marriage.
As it was rightfully emphasized by the Pasinler Court judge, it is contrary to law and human rights that those who cohabitate without civil marriage are not pushed to civil marriage, whereas some couples who cohabit without official marriage are pushed to civil marriage just because of their religious marriage. The Constitutional Court made a decision accordingly with an understanding that is based on the supremacy of law and the individual.
Perhaps it is futile to expect leftist, secular intellectuals to appreciate this decision. The Constitutional Court faced a similar appeal in 1999 as well and dismissed it finding it against the principles of secularism. This reveals what ideological bigotry secularism meant in Turkey just 16 years ago and lays bare the mental position of some intellectuals of the present day.