A recent ruling by the Heliopolis Family Court, which authenticated a non-official urfi (traditional) marriage contract between two Egyptian Christians, has aroused heated controversy. The media circulated the news as an unprecedented move by the Family Court to perform a civil marriage between two Christians. Given that Egyptian law allows civil marriage only in case one or both partners are non-Egyptian, and that many liberal voices have been demanding the same right for Egyptians, the recent news went viral.
Watani took the matter to Said Abdel-Massih, the lawyer who oversaw the writing of the unofficial marriage contract. “I helped my clients, who were both divorced and could not get remarriage permits from the Coptic Orthodox Church, write the unofficial marriage contract,” Mr Abdel-Massih told Watani. “They had to resort to this procedure, since there was no other way for them to get married, and the woman was already expecting a baby,” he explained.
Mr Abdel-Massih pointed out that his clients then filed a lawsuit with the Family Court demanding authentication of the unofficial contract. “I helped them register the court ruling with the Civil Register. News spread that the Family Court had ratified a civil marriage for them, and this prompted heated public controversy,” he said.
“I have paid a heavy price for my involvement in this case,” Mr Abdel-Massih said. “I have been harshly criticised and even insulted, especially by those who believe church marriage as the only valid marriage for Christians.” But he is unrepentant. “Some solution had to be found for the predicament of this couple,” he said.
Rights activists have been demanding that Egyptian law be changed to allow civil marriage since, in many cases, the terms of religious marriage and the intricacies of the religious teachings are found to be overly confining. In several instances, Coptic Orthodox Church leaders have said that the Church only recognises marriages performed in the Church, according to the teachings of the Bible. If couples wish to be marry or divorce according to civil contracts they may do so, but the Church cannot recognise these contracts. In other words, civil and Church contracts should go separate, parallel ways; the two systems cannot mix. But, according to Anba Danial, Bishop of Maadi and the figure in charge of the Clerical Council which handles the family affairs of Copts, children of civil marriages will be accepted in and baptised by the Church if their parents wish.
13 January 2016