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Inter-Religious Marriage in Indonesia

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Two interesting articles on this subject:

Tempo Magazine
November 6 - 12, 2001

Marriage: Mixing it Up

Calls are being made to legalize inter-religious marriages. However, opposition to these calls have accused them of pushing for secularization -- behind the mask of human rights.

The previously closed door to inter-religious marriages is currently being pried open. Among those pushing for the recognition of inter-religious marriages is the Consortium for the Formulation of Civil Registration Bill. This consortium is calling upon the Civil Registry Office to register inter-religious marriages. According to the consortium's coordinator, Ibu Soelistyowati 'Lis' Soegondo, marriage comprises a basic human right and is free from matters of religion.

To date, regional Civil Registry Offices have only dealt with non-Muslim marriages. Civil Registry Offices have so far been unwilling to validate inter-religious marriages, in particular between Muslims and non-Muslims. This stance was taken following the controversial 1986 marriage of artist Jamal Mirdad, a Muslim, to Lydia Kandou, a Christian.

The Civil Registry Office's position on the matter is based on its interpretation of Article 2, paragraph 1 of Marriage Law No.1/1974, which states that marriage is valid if conducted according to the religions and beliefs of the prospective bride and groom. Therefore, a marriage must first be authorized by religion before it can be registered with the Civil Registry Office. According to Presidential Decree No.12/1983, the Civil Registry Office is only authorized to register non-Muslim marriages.

Consequently, many inter-religious couples are unable to formally register their marriages at the Civil Registry Office. Some couples attempt to sneak past this law by pretending to profess their partner's faith in order to legally register. Others are forced to maintain de-facto relationships or to marry overseas, such as in Singapore.

According to Lis Soegondo, formerly a judge and currently a member of the National Human Rights Commission, the Civil Registry Office is actually only empowered to administer the registration of marriages, and is not authorized to rule on matters of religion.

According to Lis, the suggestions made by the consortium in the draft Civil Registration Law are based on Supreme Court jurisprudence. One such case concerned the marriage of a Catholic man to a Muslim woman in Yogyakarta, in 1995. In this case, the district court initially rejected a request from the couple to order the local Civil Registry Office to register their marriage. But the Supreme Court overruled the district court's decision and ordered the Office to register the marriage.

A similar judgment was passed in relation to the marriage of Andi Vonny (a Muslim) to Adrianus Nelwan (a Protestant Christian) in 1989. Finally, case law jurisprudence validated the controversial marriage of Muslim Jamal Mirdad to Christian Lydia Kandou, in 1995.

One of the arguments used to justify these judgments was that the Marriage Law does not regulate inter-religious marriages. This means that the 1989 Dutch law on mixed marriages still applies. The 1989 Dutch law states that mixed marriages are valid if conducted in accordance with the law prevailing over the husband or is otherwise agreed to by the prospective bride and groom.

Of course, the case for inter-religious marriages will be stronger if it passes into legislation. The consortium is pushing to enact such legislation. Nevertheless, the prospective laws will not bring immediate relief to prospective inter-religious couples. The consortium is planning to further strengthen the case for inter-religious marriages by conducting studies throughout the remainder of this year, in cities such as Sambas, Singkawang, Medan, and Bandung -- all of which have the potential for inter-religious marriages cases to arise.

However, National Development Party (PPP) Deputy Secretary-General Chozin Chumaedy, has expressed opposition to the consortium. According to Chozin, a marriage is only valid if conducted in accordance with the religious laws of the bride and groom. If religious law forbids inter-religious marriage, for example the marriage between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman, then the marriage cannot go ahead. "In Islam, this principle is non-negotiable", said Chozin.

According to Chozin, if the Civil Registry Office validates a marriage that violates Islamic law, this will have serious consequences and will no longer be an issue of human rights or pluralism. "The Civil Registry Office will become an institution that validates [marriages] of people who do not embrace a religion," said Chozin.

Hps., KMN, Hadriani Pudjiarti

Laksamana.Net, November 7, 2001

Marriage Bill: Against the Current?

At a time when Muslim-based parties are pressing for the inclusion of the Jakarta Charter in the Constitution, a bill is being prepared that runs in the exact opposite direction and would permit marriage between people of different religions.

The Jakarta Charter, a seven-word statement that says Muslims should follow Islamic law, was rejected from the 1945 constitution by the nation's founders, and while the current move to have it inserted has only marginal support, the resurrection of the issue marks a return of formal Islam to the political spotlight.

By contrast, draft legislation that would allow marriage between persons of different religions is a step towards liberalism, aptly symbolizing the great variety of religious observance in Indonesia.

For many Muslim Indonesians, marriage outside of the religion is entirely forbidden and some will virtually disown any member of the family who marries a non-Muslim.

Others go half way, believing that it is acceptable for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman since, as head of the family, he will continue to be able to steer a 'proper' course. Conversely, a Muslim woman may not marry a man of a different religion. Presumably, any such marriage would expect any children to be brought up as Muslims.

Other Muslim families, probably the minority, but ironically including that of at least one high profile politician from a Muslim party, are completely liberal on the question of marriage partners.

Other religions adopt similar attitudes. The Balinese Hindus tend to assume than anyone, male or female, marrying a Balinese will take part in religious ceremonies as a Hindu. Thus President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose mother was Balinese, has often been considered by orthodox Muslims as less Islamic than she could be, not least because she often visits temples on her fairly regular visits to the island.

The new bill, in which non-government organizations have had significant input, recognizes that many couples are unable to get married because of community standards and because of the refusal of local religious offices (Kantor Urusan Agama - KUA), which oversee marriages, to marry "mixed" couples.

One well-known example was actress Christine Hakim, a Muslim, who was unable to marry her long-term Christian boyfriend because neither wanted to change their religion.

Expatriates wanting to marry Muslim Indonesians invariably have to become Muslims and present a certificate stating that they have done so before the KUA will agree to marry them. The alternative is to marry overseas in a secular ceremony.

The Straits Times noted in a recent report that, while there is no specific ban on inter-religious marriages, "the 1974 marriage law has practically ruled out such marriages as it requires couples to officiate their wedding in either the Religious Court for Muslims or Civil Registration office for non-Muslims."

The report added that the children of inter-religious marriages often face difficulties because of the lack of clarity in the law.

What remains to be seen is whether the Muslim parties now pushing for the inclusion of the Jakarta Charter in a revised constitution will be prepared to accept a bill that goes in a completely different direction.

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

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