Draft law proposal allowing muftis to register marriages stirs debate in Turkey

Draft law proposal allowing muftis to register marriages stirs debate in Turkey

Bülent Sarıoğlu/Oya Armutçu – ANKARA
Draft law proposal allowing muftis to register marriages stirs debate in Turkey A proposal to allow “muftis,” religious civil servants within the body of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), to register and conduct marriages has stirred controversy in Turkey, with many rights organizations as well as the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) criticizing the issue. 

According to a recent draft law on civil registration services, submitted to parliament on July 25, provincial and local muftis will also be granted the authority to conduct marriages in Turkey, in addition to state registrars of marriages in municipalities. 

“It is not a surprise that the first action undertaken by the cabinet, whose part of it has recently changed, is an initiation that will inflict another blow to secularism,” CHP Tekirdağ lawmaker and deputy chair of the parliament’s committee on gender equality, Candan Yüceer, said. 

“Social life is, step by step, trying to be formed in line with religious rules; the last obstacle to child marriages is trying to be demolished. There are 919 marriage bureaus in 81 provinces. Also, more than 18,000 village heads [‘mukhtar’] can perform a marriage ceremony. This is not a regulation that emerged out of need, but instead is the government’s arbitrariness,” Yüceer noted. 

CHP Manisa deputy Tur Yıldız Biçer said the draft bill proposal was a violation of the constitution’s principle that rules “all citizens should be treated equally and the state does not discriminate in any way based on race or sect.” 

“This will turn into a process that religious representatives of the majority sect in Turkey will conduct. Will the representatives of other sects and other religions be given this right? I am not saying this in the sense that it [the authority] should be given to others as well. That will also be against secularism,” she said. 

HDP Adana deputy Meral Danış Beştaş, meanwhile, said the practice would normalize underage marriages. “The draft had also been previously brought to agenda and the experts had then noted that the practice would normalize marriages at early ages. We are worried that with this regulation, underage marriages will become widespread. Women’s disadvantage of being ‘a partner in imam marriage’ will increase with this regulation,” she said.
The president of the parliament’s committee on gender equality, Radiye Sezer Katırcıoğlu, a deputy for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, said the worries were baseless. “The decrees in the code of civil law and in other law are valid. It is clear that legal requirements will be abided by,” Katırcıoğlu said. 

“When married in front of a priest, rabbi, and [marriage] registrar, the marriage is valid. We also need to respect a regulation that comes with our culture’s customs and will defend our society’s rights and laws. The circumstances that the code of civil law sees will be carried out again. The regulation says that the authority given to the mayor should also to be provided to the muftis,” AKP Denizli deputy Cahit Özkan said. 

The head of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey (TKDF), Canan Güllü, however argued that the regulation would be “a loss to the earned rights of women.” “Are there 24-hour-long queues outside municipalities that there is a need for this regulation, which is against secularism? This draft [bill] is disastrous for women, we will not allow it. We demand from the president that this perilous draft is withdrawn,” Güllü noted.