Civil Marriage, But Why?

3 min readJul 7, 2021


I am a Dutch national, my husband a Lebanese national. We live in Beirut, Lebanon. When we decided to get married, we knew we did not want the only option available in Lebanon: a religious marriage.

Let me explain, first of all, what a religious marriage in Lebanon signifies. This tiny country with about 6 million Lebanese nationals is home to 18 recognized sects. The 18 religious groups include 12 Christian sects, 4 Muslims sects, the Druze sect, and Judaism. All of them have their own courts too with the unique jurisdiction over personal status and family law within the sect.

Not much imagination is needed to understand that religious laws are not particularly up-to-date to today’s revelations in terms of gender equality. More details per sect on the outdated rights and obligations for men and women can be found here. Essentially, there is no unified Lebanese law on the personal status of a person in this country. Instead religious courts, according to the sect on the Lebanese birth certificate, decide on all things birth, marriage, divorce, death, inheritance, guardianship etc. Quite possibly all things personal that you would want only an independent, impartial and neutral civil court to look at. At least, this is our stance.

To put this into perspective, other countries such as The Netherlands accept uniquely a civil marriage. Religious marriages are not legally recognized for secularism implies the separation of the state from religious institutions. In such countries, the courts rule based on personal status and family laws that apply to all nationals regardless of religion.

Back to Lebanon: what if you are from the Greek Orthodox sect, madly in love with someone from the Sunni sect? You shall simply not marry in Lebanon. The technicalities of who may convert to what according to the 18 religious groups in order to get married anyways in the country are beyond the scope of this post, but in some cases converting to your lover’s religion is possible.

For those that cannot convert, identify as non-religious or/and simply repulse the sectarian spirit: Turkey or Cyprus are the go-to’s. The reason is that both countries are a few km’s away and offer the civil marriage option to non-nationals. Upon return to Lebanon, registration of the concluded civil marriage as civil marriage suddenly becomes possible, for heterosexual couples that is.

For our civil marriage, my husband not being a Dutch national, we went through an intense chase for stamps (“legalization”) at various Lebanese and Dutch institutions. Of course, you pay for each stamp, increasing the value of each document per ministerial institution. Luckily we made it through the Lebanese and Dutch bureaucracy and eventually had our wedding ceremony at the municipality in Haarlem. And it was beautiful, respectful and worth every sweat, time and money.

Our choice will most likely not change the views on religious marriage for the majority, but we keep sharing this choice and why. With our marriage being added to the list of civil marriages instead of a religious marriage we hope to at least resist further inequality and sectarian strive in Lebanon.

For further reading on sectarianism in Lebanon I highly recommend the book: A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered by Kamal Salibi




Collection of daily observations & conversations. Typically from Beirut and around.