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Indonesia: Marriage Law Challenged

(Nov. 3, 2014) On October 22, 2014, a hearing was held in a case brought by several University of Indonesia School of Law graduates and one current student, who have requested that Indonesia’s Constitutional Court review the country’s marriage law. That law ties marriage ceremonies to religion. The original request was submitted to the Court on August 4. (Muslims Told to Avoid Interfaith Marriage, JAKARTA POST (Oct. 23, 2014); Indonesia Marriage Law Under Review, THAILAND LAW FORUM (Sept.9, 2014).)

The provision in question, article 2 of the Law on Marriage, specifies that a “marriage is legitimate, if it has been performed according to the laws of the respective religions and beliefs of the parties concerned.” (Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 1 of the Year 1974 on Marriage, art. 2, THE INDONESIAN MARRIAGE LAW 10 (Department of Information, Republic of Indonesia, 1975); Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 1 Tahun 1974 Tentang Perkawinan, University of Sam Ratulangi Law Faculty website.)

The Current Debate

While the law does not ban inter-faith marriages, the requirement for a religious ceremony has led to debate. The argument of those who brought the issue to the Court for review is that by requiring that a religion be chosen for the marriage ceremony, the law interferes with individuals’ freedom to worship how they wish. (Muslims Told to Avoid Interfaith Marriage, supra.)

A group called the Advocacy for Diversity Team testified before the Court as an interested party, supporting the petitions and stating that article 2 violates the country’s Constitution. Uli Parulian Sihombing, speaking for the organization, stated: “[b]ased on Article 28B, paragraph one of the Constitution, everyone has the right to establish a family. Article 2 of the Marriage Law is not in line with this.” (Id.) In addition, article 28D guarantees equal treatment and article 28E establishes freedom of religion. (The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia: Unofficial Translation (as last amended in 2002), International Labour Organization website; Undang-undang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia Tahun 1945, People’s Representative Council (Indonesian parliamentary body) website.) Shihombing added that a number of civil registry offices have refused to register inter-faith marriages, while others allow them. (Muslims Told to Avoid Interfaith Marriage, supra.)

On October 22, Muhammadiyah, a large Indonesian Muslim organization, also sent representatives to testify before the Court. The organization’s stance is that Islam does not recognize interfaith marriage. In the view of Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, a Muslim who marries outside his or her religion could in theory register at the civil registry office, but not at any of the religious offices that are subordinate to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Syamsuddin expressed the view that interfaith marriage does not lead to harmonious family life, and that Muslim men should look for Muslim women to marry. The view of a law specialist from Muhammadiyah, expressed in a statement read at the hearing, was that the request for judicial review of the Marriage Law should have been rejected. (Id.)