A draft law that registers religious marriages under Turkish law is on the cards. Critics say the bill is in conflict with the country’s secular values, but those in favor say it’ll help protect a couple’s marital rights before the law.

If accepted, the bill will allow muftis, Muslim legal experts or jurists  who work for Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), to conduct and register marriages.
If accepted, the bill will allow muftis, Muslim legal experts or jurists who work for Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), to conduct and register marriages. (Getty Images)

A draft law, submitted by the government to parliament on July 25, wants to grant the authority to register marriage contracts to state-registered muftis, or jurists.

If accepted, the bill will allow muftis, or Muslim legal experts and jurists who work for Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), to conduct and register marriages. 

Critics argue that the new law could harm secular values of Turkey, as muftis represent a religious community. 

But the government says this would encourage couples who want to conduct their religious marriages to do it under the Turkish law — and therefore protect the rights of those marrying. 

Why was the bill proposed in the first place?

In Turkish society, different practices are followed when it comes to marriage. Many couples conduct their civil and religious marriages separately. Some however, choose to perform only one of these options.

At the moment, religious marriages are not registered by the state — or recognised by the law. It means that parties who choose to marry in a religious ceremony are deprived of marital rights given by the state, says Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, Minister of Family and Social Policies.

“Most of these religious marriages are being conducted secretly. Women cannot put in a claim for the civil rights that the state gives married women,” she said. 

The new proposal offers couples two options. The first is to only carry out a civil marriage, or to conduct a combination of civil and religious marriages by following the terms of Turkey’s civil code. 

The terms of the draft law are not entirely clear as yet. But Hakan Erdem, an official from the Family and Social Policies Ministry told TRT World that details will be determined after parliamentary discussions are held.

What do the numbers say?

According to a survey conducted by Turkey’s statistical institute Turkstat last year, 97.1 percent of married couples stated they conducted both civil and religious marriages. 

The report revealed that 1.8 percent of the couples only conducted civil marriages, while 1.1 percent only conducted religious marriages.

But the number of unregistered religious marriages is underreported. Turkstat official Evrim Sultan told TRT World that it isn't possible to determine the exact number of couples who conducted only religious marriages, given the absence of a paper-trail.

Why should Muftis get involved — and how does their role differ from municipality officials?

Muftis and municipality officials are both types of state officials working for the Turkish presidency. But while municipalities directly function under the presidency, muftis working for the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Other religious representatives, such as rabbis or priests, are not mentioned in the draft law. The Diyanet is an official state institution founded in 1924, a year after the Republic of Turkey was founded, to conduct affairs that concerned the beliefs, worship, and ethics of Islam. 

Anyone working for the municipality can become a marriage officiant when authorized by the municipality — the role doesn’t require special qualifications. But under the current system, municipality officials can only register civil marriages, not religious marriages. 

What are the concerns?

Some say the new bill would give religious authorities, in this case muftis, more power in state affairs, and this could harm the secular nature of Turkey’s governance system. This claim is rejected by the government. 

“Muftis are already civil servants. This regulation change has nothing to do with any violation of secularism,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said. 

Turkey’s understanding of secularism echoes that of France, where church marriages have no legal status.

But what is new in Turkey already exists in the US and the UK. In these two nations, some priests or imams have the authority to register marriage contracts.

Are underage marriages a risk? 

If other state officials are involved, officiants might turn a blind eye to underage marriages. 

“We are worried that with this regulation, underage marriages will become widespread. Women’s disadvantage of being ‘a partner in an imam marriage’ will increase with this regulation,” Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP,  Meral Danış Beştaş said.

But the laws governing the terms of the marriage contract will remain the same.

“The people who say it is going to pave the way for underage marriages either don’t know [the proposed] law or intentionally twist it. The regulation is not encouraging underage marriages, or paving the way for it. Because the marriageable age and conditions will remain same,” the Deputy PM said. 

Source: TRT World