DRAFT LAW ALLOWING RELIGIOUS SERVANTS TO SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGE STIRS DEBATE IN TURKEY

A draft law granting Turkey's muftis authority to solemnize marriage has triggered an uproar among the government and human rights circles, as they argue that the amendment violates the secularism principle of the constitution and might encourage underage marriages.

The proposal on the law for civil registration services, submitted to the parliament on July 25, will allow provincial and district muftis, the religious civil servants within the body of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, to solemnize official marriage along with state registrars of marriages in municipalities.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) suggests that the government aims to transform social life in Turkey with Islamic rules to pave the way for underage child marriages.

The party also warns that this practice will divide the society into those whose marriages are registered by clerics and those not.

The draft is also criticized on the grounds that the representatives of the other religions might demand the same right, which is against the secular structure of the constitution.

Meral Danis Bestas from People's Democratic Party (HDP) warns that child marriages will become widespread under the proposed legislation.

Critics recall that rights of children and women have been already violated with religious Muslim marriages, which are frequently carried out in the country by imams, but it does not provide legal rights since it is not recognized by Turkey's secular system.

"There will not be marriages at early ages and all women's rights will be protected. The legal marriage age will not change and there will not be a situation leading to (the legalization of having) more than one spouse," Turkish Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya said Thursday.

The draft law would address the issues of underage marriages and second wives, as imams already often oversee religious marriages in both cases, despite the fact that both are outlawed, the minister was quoted by local media in Friday.

The amendment will give muftis the same authority, in addition to the aforementioned officials and marriages registered by a mufti will be civil ones, the minister said, adding that she is against the solemnizing religious marriage by Imams.

"I actually don't accept imams carrying out marriages. What's essential is the execution of civil marriages and their announcement," she said.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag underlined that the practice should be seen as "an additional option."

Responding to criticisms about the controversial proposal, Bozdag said the practice will encourage and boost formal marriages and protect women's marriage rights.

The draft law does not change the legal marriage age or the conditions for citizens to marry, he said on his Twitter account on July 30.

Hayrettin Karaman, columnist in the conservative, pro-government daily Yenisafak, said the draft law will make life easier for devout Muslims who also want religious recognition for their formal marriage.

Some religiously conservative Turkish nationals organize religious marriage ceremonies performed by an imam in addition to a civil marriage.

Source: NAM News Network