Civil marriage pioneers say their child will have no sect

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Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish announced recently that they are expecting a child. AP Photo

BEIRUT: The child of the first civil marriage on Lebanese soil will have no sect, newlywed and mother-to-be Kholoud Succariyeh said Thursday.

Succariyeh and her husband Nidal Darwish have been waiting several months for Interior Minister Marwan Charbel to approve their marriage, which was conducted by a notary public last November after the couple had removed their sectarian identities from public records.

Charbel, who originally announced he would not sign off on the marriage, is now waiting for the clarification of a Justice Ministry committee on the matter. He recently told a local media outlet that because the pair had a religious marriage in addition to their civil one, “they can have the child registered.”

But Succariyeh, now two-and-half months pregnant, called this “nonsense.”

“This is not right and has nothing to do with our case. We had a [religious] ceremony but we didn’t register it in a court because we dropped our sects,” she said.

As far as Succariyeh is concerned, even if the debate is still dragging on when she gives birth, her child will “definitely” not have a sect “until he [or she] chooses one.”

“I don’t think he [Charbel] is able to understand that we don’t follow a religious court,” she added.

In mid-February, the Justice Ministry’s Higher Consultations Committee issued an opinion that supported Succariyeh and Darwish’s contention that since they do not belong to a sect, their marriage by a notary public is valid and given the absence of a civil law they may designate one.

Many of their fellow nationals marry in civil ceremonies outside the country, but Succariyeh and Darwish are the first to do so on Lebanese territory.

Charbel has since submitted questions to the committee, and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi told The Daily Star Monday that the queries are “merely legal issues” including clarification on how the registration of a couple married civilly in Lebanon would be done. Charbel, who is on an official visit to Riyadh, was not available for comment.

The justice minister said it wasn’t clear when the committee will reply to Charbel, because its members are due to go to France soon to deal with the issue of Lebanese prisoner Georges Abdallah.

Succariyeh contends that Charbel “has no reason to say no” to her marriage. “It is 100 percent legal ... so he doesn’t have the right not to sign.”

She hinted that legal action would be forthcoming if Charbel refuses to sign, but did not go into details given that the interior minister has yet to announce a final decision.

Qortbawi said the couple could challenge Charbel if he declines to approve their marriage.

“They can go to court and ask to have the decision annulled, and the court will deliver its opinion on whether the minister’s decision was legal or not.”

Adding a baby to the mix appears to complicate their situation, but Succariyeh and Darwish are confident in how they will proceed.

Several legal experts have argued that the couple can choose its own civil law, and Succariyeh said she and her husband have chosen to use French law, and for matters of inheritance, for example, her child will fall under France’s civil code.

“We have chosen ... to follow the French law in all civil [matters],” Succariyeh said. “We can apply the French law in Lebanon if he [Charbel] doesn’t sign.”

Civil marriage expert Talal Husseini, who has been advising the couple, agreed that the child will have no sect and said their religious ceremony was irrelevant because they no longer belong to any of the country’s 18 confessional groups.

“The child of Kholoud and Nidal is a legitimate child whose parents have a legal contract. He or she will be named after them and will have the same rights and duties of any other Lebanese child,” he said. – With additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme

The Daily Star - Lebanon