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Civil marriage activists to revive protests.

Summary: In an effort to keep the controversial topic of civil marriage in the limelight, civil society members are set to revive protests this week, representatives of Chaml, a Lebanese NGO, told The Daily Star.

BEIRUT: In an effort to keep the controversial topic of civil marriage in the limelight, civil society members are set to revive protests this week, representatives of Chaml, a Lebanese NGO, told The Daily Star. Under Chaml's Lebanese Personal Status Law-Civil Marriage project, the organization will hold a protest at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Downtown Beirut to pressure the government to endorse civil laws. Coming at a time when politicians are engaged with the ramifications of regional struggles in Lebanon, Chaml's members admit that they don't expect the protest to be game changing. At the very least it will keep the topic of civil marriage in people's minds, said Tony Daoud, the project's communications manager.

But, he said, the protest also comes at a time when sectarian differences are causing tensions between people. "So we are opening the topic of the [drawbacks of] sectarianism through the personal status law, which is a major step to demolishing sectarianism," he said.

According to Hala Abu Ali, the project coordinator, Chaml has been lobbying for civil marriage since 2009 because, the group believes, it is the key to undoing the sectarian system in Lebanon. Friday's event seeks to urge the establishment of civil laws

"If we really want to be free from the [causes of the] Civil War and we want to build a state, the only available option is to offer an alternative," she said. "And the alternative is by endorsing civil personal status laws."

The issue of civil marriage is disputed because Decree RL 60 issued in 1936 allows for Lebanese civil marriages but the government has yet to legislate this right in the form of a personal status law, Abu Ali said. In fact, Chaml has presented a personal status draft law which is currently with Parliament's Joint Committees, she added.

Abu Ali said they are aware that Parliament can't carry out its legislative duties with the absence of a president. But they want to make sure the issue doesn't get shelved altogether.

"We want to tell this political class that we are here, don't get too comfortable ... and that we will continue following you until a personal status law is endorsed," she said. "The political situation in the country isn't an excuse to ignore the cause, especially because it affects individuals and the nation."

The stars of the protest will be the women who married in civil ceremonies. They will be joined by their families and praised for the courage it took to opt for a civil marriage, Chaml organizers explained.

"We believe that once they [women] took this step, they started to fight for the alternative civil state we are asking for," Abu Ali said.

Choosing a civil marriage refutes the notion in society that women are weak, Abu Ali said. Raising their children in a nonsectarian setting, she added, was an act of revolution by these women. "[These women] are challenging the constraints of sectarianism," Abu Ali said.

"This is the message that we want to deliver during this gathering, that women and Lebanese families are not that sectarian because they have relatives from other sects."

Moreover civil laws will simplify issues like inheritance and adoption, Daoud explained.

Even when a couple marries in a civil ceremony in Cyprus, for instance, Lebanon's religious-based personal status laws continues to act as a reference once the couple returns to Lebanon, he explained.

"If that couple wants to get a divorce, what legal process will they resort to? The man's personal status law," Daoud said.

Civil marriage isn't meant to allow couples from different sects to marry, Daoud stressed. Same sect marriages should also have the option of a civil ceremony.

"This is the importance of the [civil] law, is that you find a familial justice between all family members," Abu Ali said.

"I consider that those who choose a civil marriage are ... often women," Daoud added. "It's true that the choice is bold ... but in the end she's doing what is best for her."

Daoud's comments are rooted in the fact that the current religious-based personal status law gives men advantage over women in various familial matters.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Apr 17, 2015
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