Marriageable Age: When Rites Are Rights

There are two basic levels of the United States legal system: federal law and state law. While a federal law applies to the nation as a whole, a state law is only in effect within a particular state. There are multiple issues (i.e., immigration, gay marriage, and marijuana use) that are supposed to be decided state by state. However, the supremacy clause, which is part of article VI of the Constitution, states that the federal government wins in the case of conflicting legislation. This means that if a state rules against a federal law, federal law prevails and is allowed to step in.

While Lebanon and U.S. law differ in many aspects there are some similarities. Just as each state in the U.S. has the right to decide certain laws, each of Lebanon’s 18 sects follow a distinct set of personal state laws. Each sect’ creates laws to govern legal procedures pertaining to personal matters in their specific area. These laws are binding for any individual who belongs to a certain sect. All matters of personal status (i.e., marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance) are governed by religious codes set by a specific sect.

Recently, this method of creating laws regarding personal matters has been criticized when dealing with the issue of marriageable age. In Lebanon, the age of capacity is 18 years for men and 17 for women; with guardian permission, 17 for males and 9 for women; for Shi’a, 15 for males and 9 for females with judicial permission; and for Druze it is 16 for males and 15 for females with judicial permission.

While one may believe culture and tradition justify marriage at a young age, others may consider it a denial of basic human rights. According to Ya Libnan, the National Commission for Lebanese Women, a state body on women’s rights, have drawn up a first draft regulating the marriage of minors. This law would require any marriage involving children below age of consent to receive approval from a civil judge as well as a religious tribunal. This particular law will be presented to Lebanon’s parliament, but could face potential, significant opposition from religious leaders.

While many Lebanese marriages are happy and consensual this law would protect the ones that are not. For example, in Baalbek, Lebanon 13-year-old Samiha was married off to a 41-year-old tradesman, a marriage arranged by her father. Now, at the age of 15 she has two children, she is unhappy, but she feels this is the life she must accept. According to Ya Libnan, there is no official statistics on child marriage in Lebanon, but it does take place in several rural areas and has risen with the influx of Syrian refugees.

Because of Lebanon’s sectarian society it is nearly impossible to establish laws that apply universally to all Lebanese. The political system is often complicated by long holding traditions and culture. If this law were to be put into motion would each sect be willing to abide by it or would it create conflict similar to state and federal disagreements in the U.S.?

Lebanon plans law to reverse under age marriage trend. (2014, August 28). YaLibnan. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from


3 thoughts on “Marriageable Age: When Rites Are Rights

  1. I have always thought of young, arranged marriages to be very strange but as I have become more globally and culturally aware I have learned that broadening one’s views about cultural differences is crucial and my perspective has drastically changed. One thing that stands out to me in the article the age difference between the men and women in which the law applies to. In every statistic listed, the age of the woman is significantly lower than the age of the man in which the law applies. I find this very strange but once again could be in part of my cultural background and what I have grown up around as opposed to the people of Lebanon.

  2. It saddens me about those young girls that were forced into such marriages. When my family tells me of such cases, I feel horrified, but they tell me it was quite natural. My great grandmother alone was married off at 13 years old to a man near twice her age. Thankfully it seems this trend in Lebanon has nearly died out (in the cities anyway), but im afraid in other more traditional countries, there are still reports of this going on.

  3. I definitely think that it is a traditional thing that has slowly disappeared as time has gone on. I know here, in the United States, it is uncommon for people to get married at young ages. I was wondering if that seems to be a generational thing or just in some countries. Like, do you think there are people in your generation of your age that believe these marriages are still natural?

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