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Ministry for all religions

Jakarta Post Editorial - March 2, 2024

Jakarta – Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Quomas likes to court controversy, and the latest example is his proposal to open religious affairs offices (KUAs) to extend services to non-Muslims. The KUA, which is available in every district, administers and registers marriage in the Islamic tradition. Now, the minister wants this office to offer the same services to other religions.

It is not clear why he is doing this. Not only is this not practical, since restructuring and expanding the KUA will involve a lot of work, but it is also not desirable in the first place. There has never been a demand for its scope to be expanded. Religious minorities are content with using the civil registry for registering their marriages. They may rightly be suspicious about the KUA's ability to meet their needs as historically the office is steeped in the Islamic tradition.

The proposal is now being discussed with leaders of major religions, but there are already some rejections and skepticism. We nevertheless commend Yaqut not for the initiative but for the spirit underpinning it. Invoking inclusivity, he said the KUA should not exclusively be catering to the Muslim majority, who make up 86 percent of Indonesia's 280 million population.

If we may suggest, the minister and religious leaders are better off dedicating their time and energy to addressing real pending problems some people face in getting their marriages recognized by the state.

Most people no longer face problems in getting their marriage certified by the state. Until four years ago, followers of many religious minorities and beliefs could not register their marriages if they did not belong to one of the six religions recognized by the state. This had devastating consequences for many families as their offspring were not recognized by the state, and often had their inheritance rights denied.

The breakthrough came in 2019 when the government ordered the civil registry to accept marriages for all religions and beliefs. That is the spirit of inclusivity we would like to see more of.

There is one more group that needs to feel included, people in interfaith marriages.

The civil registry still insists that it will only register marriages sanctioned by a religious institution. This becomes problematic if each of the pair decides to keep their faith, since almost all religious institutions refuse to administer interfaith marriages. They usually demand that one of the couple converts to the religion of their would-be spouse.

Until recently, interfaith couples could circumvent this by getting a court ruling to recognize their marriage, and then use this to register with the civil registry. But in July 2023, the Supreme Court banned district courts from making such rulings.

There is one other option couples can pursue, getting married in a civil registry abroad – Singapore and Australia are favorite destinations – and then filing their marriage certificate with the civil registry upon returning home. But not everyone has the money to travel and get married abroad.

With the growing number of interfaith marriages in Indonesia in recent decades, more and more couples are finding it almost impossible to get their marriage recognized by the state.

Granted, the law considers all marriages as religious sacraments and therefore they can only be administered by religious institutions. The state's role is confined to only registering them. Unlike in secular states, the civil registry is not empowered to administer marriages.

On the other hand, refusing to recognize interfaith marriage amounts to a denial of their basic rights, and later, most probably their children's rights. Requiring one of the couple to convert is also a violation of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

Religious principles are never intended to deprive people of their basic rights. We need to have a less rigid interpretation of the law to facilitate interfaith marriages. Minister Yaqult and religious leaders need to sit down and help find them a solution, in the spirit of inclusivity.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2024/03/02/ministry-for-all-religions.htm