Recently, people have been discussing a draft authorizing muftis - religious civil servants - to register marriages, a proposal by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
In Turkey, mayors and registrars assigned by mayors are authorized to register civil marriages. The draft would also grant the authority to conduct marriages to provincial and local muftis.
The government defends the new draft on the grounds that it will facilitate marriage procedures, while the main opposition party and a number of women's associations argue that the regulation is against secularism.
The draft is mainly criticized for the following reasons:
1. It might pave the way for child marriages.
2. Society will be divided in two: Those who have their marriages registered by clerics and those who do not.
3. Members of other religions and sects might demand the same right, which will undermine secularism.
As a journalist regarding secularism as a merit of vital importance and as someone strictly against child marriages, I think that the criticisms of the opposition are biased and Islamophobic.
I can justify my opinion with a number of assertions:
1- According to the Turkish Civil Code that regulates marriage and family life, to get married couples must be at least 17 years old, which can be reduced to 16 in special cases by court decision. This is in line with Western standards. Also, the draft in question does not propose any amendment to the Civil Code. Marriage age will not be changed.
2- A majority of Muslims Turks already organize religious marriage ceremonies performed by an imam in addition to a civil marriage. Marriage performed by an imam does not have any legal aspect. Some citizens, on the other hand, prefer only civil marriage.
To sum up, society is already divided in two: those who prefer religious marriage ceremonies, and those who do not. So far, this situation has not led to any discrimination.
3- Secularism exists not to exclude an individual's faith from daily life, but to ensure that the state treats all faiths equally. Consequently, it's impossible to understand why getting married in the presence of a cleric is against secularism. This right is recognized and preserved all across the world, including Asia, Europe and America.
For instance, in the U.S., no one is concerned that Christian clerics conducting marriages in churches might undermine secularism In this case, isn't it discriminatory to argue that granting the same right to people of faith in Turkey poses a potential threat?
Hopefully, the government will make a regulation in the draft that grants equal rights to citizens of faith groups other than Sunni Muslims, the majority of Turkish people.
If the opposition groups and women's associations are concerned only about secularism, then the final solution could be provided by expanding freedoms, not by restricting individuals regarding their faiths. If only they could positively contribute to the draft by leaving positivist biases aside.