Love and Marriage

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other

  • “Love and Marriage” by Frank Sinatra

I have yet to hear a Frank Sinatra song that I don’t like. But I have to take issue with this classic. As we all know in many (or even most?) places in the world, it’s without a doubt possible to have love, want to get married, and not be able to.

Case in point: Washington State. When I was in my hometown of Seattle last month, campaigning around Referendum 74 was — a bit like love itself — hot and heavy. To be voted on this November, Referendum 74 was created by those seeking to disallow same-sex marriages in Washington State (a right that was approved in February of this year). Those fighting to keep that right have wide-spread support in Seattle — including a $2.5 million dollar gift at the end of July from Seattle-native and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie. As one of the earlier states to repeal its laws against interracial marriage (in 1868 actually, prior to statehood, when it was pioneer territory), it seems fitting that Washington State be one of the pioneers in same-sex marriage as well. Come November we’ll see if love and marriage will go together like a horse and carriage for same-sex carriage drivers in Washington State.

Marriage is a hot topic in Lebanon as well.

Before I’d even left Honduras, I was in touch with a friend of a friend in Beirut who’d been writing me with great advice and tips. In one of her emails, she noted that another who had heard of my husband’s and my upcoming arrival to Lebanon had asked her: “How come a Catholic Italian is married to a Protestant American?!”

Huh? Our own families (and the pastor who married us) had supported our interfaith marriage. I don’t think anyone else had ever cared. Frankly, I didn´t see why anyone else should care.

The email continued: “I laughed and answered her saying, ‘Same like a Catholic Italian married to a Protestant Lebanese.'” (The case of this Lebanese friend.)

I was puzzled as to where the question came from. Anti-Catholic sentiment? Anti-Protestant sentiment? General ultra-religiousness? Guess I’d find out when I got to Lebanon.

When I arrived to Beirut, I picked up a copy of what I consider to be the inside guide to any city where it’s published, Time Out magazine. Right at the inside front cover was a two-page ad for “civil marriage in Cyprus,” US$1,900 per couple. Two days and one night in Cyprus, including airfare, one night in a five-star hotel, document translation, witnesses for the marriage, and flowers for the bride. A twenty-minute flight away from Beirut, apparently it’s even possible to do the whole thing in one day, for those who are tight on time or money.

Why Cyprus? It’s certainly close and has honeymoon-worthy beaches. But why did destination weddings merit such a big ad? And for civil marriage. (Guess like the “ultra-religious” explanation didn’t hold water.)

Apparently, for would-be brides and grooms who do not share the same religion, it’s Cyprus or bust.

It turns out that civil marriage does not exist in Lebanon. All marriages must be performed by a religious authority. With only a couple of exceptions*, conversion is required if the bride and groom do not come from the same one of Lebanon’s 18 religious communities. With your religion stamped on your passport, there’s no pulling a fast one on any wedding officiant. I understood the question ‘How come a Catholic Italian is married to a Protestant American?’ in a whole new light. More than “how come?”, it’s truly a question of “how?”

“I went to my church to see if we could get married here [in Lebanon],” my real estate agent told me. A Christian woman marrying a Christian, but foreign-born and raised, man. “They told me they needed a copy of his baptismal certificate. We decided it would be easier to get married abroad.”

Civil marriage doesn’t exist within Lebanon, but such marriages contracted abroad have been legally recognized since 1936. To boot, couples married in civil ceremonies abroad can then be divorced by a Lebanese civil court under the law of the country where they were married – a twist that can save tens of thousands of dollars, and provide more equitable results not only for the divorce proceedings, but also for child custody, as religious divorces in Lebanon typically heavily favor the father.

In the case of my real estate agent, she and her fiancé headed to Australia. Given its proximity and ease of paperwork, Cyprus is increasingly popular. According to the Cypriot Embassy in Beirut, some 800 Lebanese couples made the jaunt over to Cyprus in 2011 to tie the knot. Looks like there is a way for more Lebanese to hitch their horse to the carriage after all.

Marriage norms can vary widely from place to place, but the desire to capture the moment with a good photo is universal. The Roman Baths are one of the most popular spots in Beirut for the classic wedding shot.

*Muslim men can marry Christian or Jewish women, and Maronite Christian men can marry Muslim women.  In both cases, the children automatically become members of their fathers’ religion.

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One thought on “Love and Marriage

  1. […] to more harmonious living, by the way, was to legalize interreligious marriages in Lebanon – see my earlier post on that […]

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