Lebanon president PM in twitter feud over civil marriage

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Lebanon’s president and premier exchanged opposing views on Twitter over the issue of civil marriages in the multi-faith country, where such unions are illegal.

President Michel Sleiman tweeted on Sunday that he would remain steadfast in supporting such unions, while Prime Minister Najib Mikati wrote on his Twitter account that a consensus was required to address the issue.

Sleiman tweeted that he would “respond to the evolution and aspirations of the people and prepare the appropriate laws for the issue of civil marriage.”

“There are authorities opposed to civil marriage, but this will not sway my convictions or my quest to put the train on the right track,” he said in another tweet.

But after meeting Sleiman on Sunday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati tweeted in Arabic “the current circumstances do not allow us to address new controversial topics that create divisions.”

He then said in English: “I believe that the civil marriage issue cannot be dealt with from a top-down approach” and “it’s up to all national stakeholders to get into consensus about it.”

The campaign for civil marriage in Lebanon, which is considered a liberal Arab country in a conservative region, has gained momentum with a daring initiative to create new jurisprudence.

Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish announced earlier this month they had wed as a secular couple by having their religious sects legally struck from their family registers under an article dating from the 1936 French mandate, which refers to civil unions.

Sleiman quickly advocated for a civil marriage law calling it a “very important step in eradicating sectarianism and solidifying national unity,” while Mikati deemed the issue “futile.”

Despite a long-running campaign by civil groups, civil marriage has no legal basis in Lebanon, a country of around four million people who belong to 18 different religious communities, mainly Christian and Muslim.

Former President Elias Hrawi in 1998 proposed a similar law, which gained approval from the cabinet only to be halted amid widespread opposition from the country’s religious authorities.

Most religious faiths have their own regulations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, and mixed Christian-Muslim weddings in Lebanon are often discouraged unless one of the potential spouses converts.

The Lebanese authorities recognize civil weddings only if they have been registered abroad, and thousands of mixed-faith couples have traveled to nearby Cyprus or Turkey to marry.