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.
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.
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.”