11/25/2014, 00.00
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For Indonesian Bishops, the state should register mixed marriages as a matter of religious freedom

by Mathias Hariyadi
The Bishops' Conference stands for civil rights, in particular with regard to mixed marriages. Muslims, Hindus and Confucians oppose changes to existing legislation that bans mixed marriages. Even members of the Constitutional Court are opposed to changes. For the Catholic Church, it is a fight for "human rights".

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) has renewed its fight for civil rights, particularly in the area of mixed marriages, which must always be recognised, guaranteed and protected.

This goes against existing legislation in the world's most populous Muslim nation. The former in fact requires that all couples must present the Civil Registry Office with a religious marriage certificate and must have the same religion for their marriage to be registered.

The principle of separation and religion and the practice of forced conversions, especially towards Islam, are at stake.

The Church, which has played a leading role in the fight for religious freedom, stands alone in this as Hindus and Confucians, like Muslims, oppose mixed marriages.

Under Law No. 1 of 1974 concerning marriages in Indonesia (Article 2 (1): "a marriage is legitimate if it has been performed according to the laws of the respective religious beliefs of the parties concerned."

In recent months, thanks to the work of academics and scholars from four law schools in Jakarta, the Constitutional Court has begun debating the possibility - and the opportunity - of changing existing laws.

Proposals submitted to the Constitutional Court in July 2014 centre on three issues: the inability to recognise a marriage unless it is performed by one of Indonesia's state-recognised religions, the ban on mixed marriage and the requirement that spouses belong to the same religion.

Last September, the then Minister for Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim confirmed the validity of the rules in place and excluded the need for any constitutional amendment.

In his view, before any legislative action is taken, religious leaders, in particular experts in Islamic law, should be consulted

The former president of the Constitutional Court also shut the door to possible changes, noting that "if a mixed couple insists on legalising their status, they should go abroad."

Asked for their opinion on the matter, the leaders of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) called on the Constitutional Court to reject calls for changes and maintain the status quo.

Prompted by parliament, leaders of religious minorities presented their respective positions, with the Catholic Church taking a lonely stance.

Indonesia Hindu Dharma Parisada, which represents the country's Hindus, came out against the legalisation mixed marriages.

Similarly, the deputy president of Matakin (the Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia) said that "mixed marriages are not valid according to our teachings."

Catholic bishops have taken a different view. For Fr Purbo Tamtomo, expert in Canon Law at the Archdiocese of Jakarta, the union between a man and a woman is "an inalienable human right". Equally, the principle of separation between state and religion is the basis of the state.

In fact, he complained that many couples, married in Church, end up converting to other religions in order to have their union recognised by the state.

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