Indonesia's Muslim leaders oppose interfaith unions

Indonesia's Muslim leaders oppose interfaith unions

Muslim leaders have stressed the importance of religious uniformity in marriage in the face of a judicial review of an article in the 1974 Marriage Law that requires religious marriage ceremonies.

Four graduates and a student of the University of Indonesia's School of Law filed a judicial review with the Constitutional Court on Thursday, seeking to scrap Article 2, paragraph 1 of the law that defines a marriage as legitimate only if it is conducted according to the religious teachings of the bride and groom.

Nahdlatul Ulama executive council chair, Slamet Effendi Yusuf, said that religion was an integral aspect of marriage. "It is a citizen's right to build a family and marriage is regulated in [every] religion."

"It is up to the court justices to decide on the judicial review. Nahdlatul Ulama's view is in line with the existing law," Slamet said on Friday.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said he was opposed to the judicial review, insisting that religious values should not be separated from marriage.

"[The acknowledgment of religion] differentiates Indonesia from other countries. We're not an Islamic country, or a secular country that has eliminated the link between the state and religious values," he said, as quoted by

Lukman, who is known for his progressive views on religion and his support for minority groups, added that having a spouse of a different religion could create confusion in a marriage.

Ahmad Nurcholish, an interfaith marriage counselor from the Harmoni Mitra Madania Foundation, supported the judicial review, arguing that the article was a significant barrier to many couples seeking to register their marriages at civil registry offices.

"Most of the civil registry offices utilize this article as legal grounds for not registering mixed marriages. A handful of offices in Jakarta, and Salatiga in Central Java are more open-minded. They acknowledge a Supreme Court decision in 1986 that stipulates differences in faith should not be an obstacle to couples getting married," he said.

Ahmad, who has assisted 557 interfaith couples since 2005, said the law, and religious constraints, had forced some couples to get married overseas, or to switch religions solely for the purpose of the wedding ceremony and then returning to their original religions after that.

Jeirry Sumampow from the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) said the judicial review should be used as an opportunity to end government control over marriages. "Let religious leaders decide whether to accept or prohibit interfaith marriages. The state must stop interfering in this issue."

He said the PGI allows its 88 church-organisation members to make individual decisions on the matter.

Former Constitutional Court chief justice Mahfud MD noted that the law had been mired in controversy since its enactment in 1974.

"Some groups staged rallies to oppose the bill, prompting the House of Representatives to involve ulema and religious figures in the bill's deliberation," he said.

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