The debate on civil marriage has stirred tensions in Lebanon after the newly appointed interior minister reignited the issue for its recognition by religious authorities.
Much of Lebanese civil law, including personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, is applied according to the relevant religious sect and in some cases treats women differently to men. Lebanon has 17 recognized Muslim and Christian sects.
In an interview with Euronews last Friday, Interior Minister Raya el Hassan said, "I personally prefer if there was a framework for civil marriage, and this is something that... I will try to open room for a serious and deep discussion on."
While Hassan's comment has gained support from prominent public figures, her intention drew severe criticism from religious authorities in the country, while rejecting a civil personal status code.
Many Christian and Muslim authorities condemned her remarks, which were seen as a violation of the religions. Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon's highest Sunni authority, said in a statement Monday that the civil marriage contradicts both the provisions of Islamic law and the Lebanese constitution.
Hassan is one of four women to take Cabinet jobs in the new coalition, more than ever before in Lebanon and three more than in the last government, in which even the minister for women was a man. Lebanon has been making an effort to improve the representation of women in politics.
In last year's parliamentary election, the first in nine years, six women were elected to the 128-seat Lebanese Parliament, up from four in the previous chamber. The idea of establishing civil marriage was first discussed and rejected in the legislative body in 1951.
However, secular associations in the country began demanding it again, starting from the 1960s. The law returned to parliament in 1975 by the Democratic Party and provoked controversy when President Elias Hrawi supported it. His attempt to pass a law legitimizing civil marriage failed due to the fierce opposition from religious authorities.
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