“For us, a person who has civil marriage is like a person who is committing adultery,” the Rev. Joseph Abdul-Sater, a Maronite Catholic priest and religious judge, said. “The marriage is the sacrament, while civil marriage is a contract, and for that reason it is considered cohabitation.”
Mohammed Dali Balta, a Sunni Muslim judge, said in an interview that if human beings are allowed to write marriage laws, rather than live by religiously sanctified Muslim law, “they can one day legalize marriage between homosexuals.”
The Israeli and Lebanese couples who marry in Cyprus tend to feel bitter and discriminated against, and while they may consider each other enemies, they would probably find much to agree on as far as marriage law is concerned.
“Who is ruling the country? In a way, it’s the religious parties,” said Mr. Wakim, the Lebanese groom. “Not separating the church from government from the beginning … this is the biggest problem.”
Ms. Ghamloush, his 33-year-old bride, said Lebanon, with so many religious groups, greatly needs civil marriage. “Because if you respect your partner, you shouldn’t expect him to change his religion for you.”
Mr. Stafeev, who works in construction in Israel, said people’s religion should be their own affair. “Israel is a democratic state,” he said. “Everyone should have the will and the right to do what they want.”
Both Lebanon and Israel have champions for change.
Last year a campaign called “All for Civil Marriage in Lebanon” spread through Facebook and became a movement that is trying to legalize civil marriage for those who have no other option, said Basil Abdullah, a Lebanese civil rights activist.
Political rivalries have stymied the effort, he said, but he is optimistic it will eventually succeed.
In Israel, the marriage issue is a political line in the sand that can threaten governments dependent on religious parties for their parliamentary majorities.
Mixed couples in common-law marriages have won some relief from a 2002 Supreme Court ruling granting them the same rights and benefits as those in religiously sanctioned unions, but they still aren’t recognized by the state as married unless they go abroad and have a civil marriage.
Irit Rosenblum, a civil rights lawyer who campaigns for civil marriage, said that, for many couples, equal benefits aren’t enough; to be registered by the state as married “is really important mentally for them.”