Minority Churches up in arms over marriage discrimination

LEADERS of minority religions are fighting to keep a marriage regulation bill from becoming law, protesting that it discriminates against their members by denying official recognition to their marriage ceremonies.

The Marriage Law of 2002, introduced in the House last year, only recognises marriages performed in civil, Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Maronite ceremonies on the island. Couples wishing to marry under other religions in Cyprus would have to participate in a civil ceremony as well for the union to be legal.

Deputy Attorney-general Petros Clerides told House Legal Committee members and church leaders that the proposed law was intended to help lawmakers prevent fraudulent marriages, including the rare cases of polygamy, marriages between relatives or involving minors. However, he emphasised that he did not believe any of the minority churches on the island condoned these practices.

Despite the Deputy Attorney-general’s assurances of the measure’s and good intentions, the Cyprus Union of Evangelical Churches said it would do everything it could to prevent the bill’s passage, preparing to involve foreign authorities if necessary.

“We are prepared to go to Europe and have the Protestant movement there speak on our behalf,” said Michalis Charalambous, president of the union. “We will do whatever is necessary to protect our human rights.”

Charalambous estimated there were at least 3,000 people in Cyprus who classify themselves as Evangelical, which includes Protestant and Baptists faiths. Many foreigners who reside on the island would also be affected, he said.

“This is discrimination,” Charalambous said. “All religions under the law have equal rights. This goes against the constitution and the European laws.”

The Rev. Heraklakis Panagiotidis, head of the Greek Evangelical Church of Nicosia, where he performs one or two weddings a year, strongly opposes the bill. He recalled that a 1990 law had previously revoked the rights of the minority religions to perform weddings, but it was overturned five years later.

“Sadly, because we are a very small minority in Cyprus, there has generally been discrimination against our churches,” he said. “There is intolerance against minority groups in Cyprus.”

Discussion will continue on the Marriage Law of 2002 in the House on Thursday.