Indonesia should allow interfaith marriage, say bishops

Country's religious groups differ greatly on the controversial marriage law
Indonesia should allow interfaith marriage, say bishops

Father Yohanes Purba Tamtomo, a representative of the Indonesia Bishops' Conference, speaks about the Church's position on interfaith marriage during a hearing at the Constitutional Court on Monday (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Indonesian bishops have told the country’s top court that they support interfaith marriage and that laws that may restrict mixed unions are discriminatory.

Representatives of the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI) on Monday addressed the Constitutional Court as part of a hearing meant to debate the substance of the country’s controversial marriage laws.

Speaking with after KWI members addressed the court, Fr Yohanes Purba Tamtomo said the 1974 Marriage Law must uphold two basic intertwined rights: the right to choose one’s own religion and the right to marry whomever one chooses. Any law that effectively forces a citizen to convert religions to marry his or her partner is problematic.

“We basically do not want religion preventing people from getting married, or even choosing not to be married because of religious difference,” Tamtomo said.

He said the Catholic Church in Indonesia supports interfaith marriage and does not require the children of mixed marriages to enter the church.

KWI made its submissions after the Constitutional Court asked representatives from various religious faiths for input on the 1974 Marriage Law. The legislation has been under scrutiny from the country’s highest court after four law students petitioned the court in September to declare the law unconstitutional.

The law, they said, effectively forces anyone who wants to get married to someone from another religion to convert.

The legislation does not explicitly state this, but critics say its vague wording effectively requires religious conversions. The law’s wording states that “marriage is legitimate if done according to the law of each religion and belief”.

Representatives from other faiths have expressed differing views. A representative of the Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia has said that differences in class, race, ethnicity and religion must not be a barrier to marriage. I Nengah Dana of the Hindu Association of Indonesia, in contrast, urged the court to uphold the current wording.

He emphasized that people of other faiths who marry Hindus must convert to Hinduism.

At a hearing on November 5, representatives of the Indonesian Ulema Council — the country's top Muslim clerical body — expressed a firm stance rejecting interfaith marriage.

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