BEIRUT (Reuters Life!) - Lebanese women in white gowns and men in suits staged a mock wedding in central Beirut’s main thoroughfare on Thursday, calling on authorities to pass a law that would legalize civil marriage.
Dancing and marching to the drumming of traditional folklore songs, civil rights activists threw rice on “couples” as they made their way to parliament in order to hand over a petition to legalize civil marriage to lawmaker Ghassan Mekhayber.
Made up of 18 religious communities, Lebanon has a delicate sectarian power sharing system constructed after the 1975-90 civil war which killed 150,000 people.
Personal status laws such as those relating to marriage or inheritance are governed by the courts of each religion.
This creates a dilemma for many interfaith couples who want to wed but don’t want to convert to a partner’s religion, forcing many to resort to hitching a quick 30-minute plane ride to Cyprus, where they have a civil ceremony and come back to Lebanon to register it.
Travel agencies even advertise Cyriot “wedding package” holidays.
“As you can see we are wearing suits and wedding dresses to demand from the government a new civil status law, an optional one,” said Diana Assaf, a spokeswoman for the event.
“We don’t want to travel outside to get married anymore. This is a very simple right,” said Diana Assaf, a spokeswoman for the event, in which the activists carried signs reading “Wedding with a stalled sentence”.
Last year, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud issued a memorandum giving Lebanese citizens the option to remove their sect from civil registry records.
Nevertheless sectarianism remains ingrained in Lebanon’s social fabric where political alliances are generally created along sectarian lines.
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Reuters Television, editing by Paul Casciato