Turkey OKs imams conducting civil marriages, raising fears of polygamy, child brides

A new Turkish law that lets Muslim civil servants perform civil marriages is raising fears the government is easing the path to more polygamy and more child brides.

The law, passed last week, lets religious officials, known as “muftis,” perform marriages, which formerly were only performed by secular state and municipal authorities. The fear among secularists and women’s groups is that the law will push the nation toward having more child brides and more polygamy.

“This is an attempt by the ruling party to impose [its] political understanding to regulate life according to religion,” said Senal Sarihan, a parliamentary deputy of the secular Republican People’s Party, according to VOANews. “And this is against [the] constitution. And we are not accepting this.”

Historically, imams have officiated at the majority of religious marriages, but those marriages were not legally recognized. Most marriages in Turkey entail both a religious and a secular ceremony.

Opponents of the law also say that imams have been performing marriages where one spouse – usually the female – is underage, and that giving imams legal power would exacerbate such unions.

Crowd cheer as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the July 15 Martyr's bridge on a "National Unity March" to commemorate the one year anniversary of the July 15, 2016 botched coup attempt, in Istanbul, Saturday, July 15, 2017. Turkey commemorates the first anniversary of the July 15 failed military attempt to overthrow president Erdogan, with a series of events honoring some 250 people, who were killed across Turkey while trying to oppose coup-plotters. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Crowd cheer as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the July 15 Martyr's bridge on a "National Unity March" to commemorate the one year anniversary of the July 15, 2016 botched coup attempt, in Istanbul, Saturday, July 15, 2017. Turkey commemorates the first anniversary of the July 15 failed military attempt to overthrow president Erdogan, with a series of events honoring some 250 people, who were killed across Turkey while trying to oppose coup-plotters. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)  (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is courting a religious voting base, has scoffed at the criticism. He maintains that the law would bring about more order and legal protections in marriages. The Turkish embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

“They are heading to the streets making a fuss,” he was quoted as saying in VOANews.com. “Whether you want it or not, this legislation will pass in parliament. The marriages will not go unrecorded, they will be under record. On the contrary, this implementation will abolish unofficial marriages.”

Feminists, however, say the new law threatens women’s rights. A group of women earlier this month held a protest against the new law in Istanbul, chanting, “We won’t be silenced!” according to VOAnews.com

Women’s rights activists say Turkey had been making strides as far as empowering females, but that it has been regressing, particularly after a failed coup in 2016.

The activists point to another move in Turkey they say also would usurp women’s rights – making it more difficult to get a divorce.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a rally in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. Some 53 million Turks go the polls on Sunday to choose their 12th president in an election considered a turning point for the country of 76 million people, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vying for the position he has pledged to transform from a symbolic role into a position of power. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the former chief of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas are also running.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2014, when he was prime minister campaigning before the election. A failed coup attempt against him last year has led to a crackdown on those perceived as opponents, as well as reversing gains by women's rights groups.  (Associated Press)

New regulations are underway to require couples considering a divorce to first participate in a “reconciliation period” where they meet with mediators. Also, a government report on divorce recommended that a spouse alleging domestic violence provide proof when seeking police protection.

“No woman would get a divorce after one or two incidents of domestic violence,” said women’s rights advocate Pinar Iikkaracan to the Media Line. “They do it [as a last resort], when they can’t take it anymore, and are therefore past the point of counseling.”