Constitutional Court defends the Marriage Act 1974 that prohibits interfaith marriages
Ahmad Nurcholish, program director and interfaith marriage counselor at Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace in Indonesia, is seen with an interfaith couple in this file image. (Photo supplied)
Indonesia's Constitutional Court has upheld a nearly five-decade-old law that bans interfaith marriages, rejecting a Catholic man's petition seeking to marry his Muslim partner.
In a verdict on Jan. 31, seven out of nine judges dismissed the lawsuit from Ramos Patege and defended the 1974 Marriage Act.
Patege's counsel argued that the law violates the constitutional rights of the couple, and infringes on their freedom to embrace a religion and belief of their choice.
Wahiduddin Adams, one of the judges, stated that a provision of the laws states that "a marriage is said to be valid if it is carried out according to the laws of each religion and belief" and so it does not impede anyone's freedom of religion and belief.
"The regulatory provisions are about legal marriage according to religion and belief, not about the right to choose a religion and belief," he said.
He also claimed that the choice to embrace a religion and belief remains the right of each person to choose, adhere to, and believe in it.
He also said there has been no change in circumstances and conditions or new developments related to issues of constitutionality that warrant a change in the law.
"The court remains in its stance on the constitutionality of a valid marriage, which is done according to religion and belief," he said.
Meanwhile, two other judges, Suhartoyo and Daniel Yusmic Foekh, a Catholic, gave concurring opinions, stating that the law needed to be changed in order to answer the real realities at this time, but left that task to the parliament and the government.
Holy Cross Father Postinus Gulo, a graduate of the Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregoriana University and a member of the Marriage Tribunal at the Bandung Diocese in West Java province, said he was saddened by the court’s decision.
"In the Catholic Church, interfaith marriage is an obstacle, but a legal marriage can be done if there is a dispensation from the bishop and vicar general," he told UCA News.
He said that the law had made it impossible for couples to register interfaith marriages in the state.
"We must realize that this is a challenge for us, as well as an opportunity to continue to be faithful and proud of our Catholic faith," he said.
Ahmad Nurcholish, program director and interfaith marriage counselor at Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) said that this decision shows that the government is actually going backward, while religious communities are becoming more open.
He said religions allow their own people to marry from another religion, sometimes conducting marriage ceremonies of both religions.
"For example, in Islam and Catholicism, an Islamic marriage ceremony and a blessing in the Church can be held. That way it is legal according to Islam and legal according to the rules of the Catholic church," he said.
The state, he said, does not need to get involved in debates on the pros and cons, but give citizens the freedom to make their own choices.
He said the law has made interfaith couples choose ways to get past it, including by marrying abroad, such as in Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the US, and Germany.
“For those who do not have enough money, the law is, of course, a problem,” he said.
Nurcholish said his organization, which partners with Harmoni Mitra Madania, has helped officiate the marriage of 1,576 couples of different religions since 2005.The group offers counseling and advocacy for about 30 interfaith couples every month.
"This reality is ignored by the Constitutional Court and the government," he said.
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