Burma’s President Thein Sein should refuse to sign into law the discriminatory interfaith marriage bill passed by parliament on July 7, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill targets Buddhist women who marry – or seek to marry – non-Buddhist men and introduces vaguely defined acts against Buddhism as grounds for divorce, forfeiture of custody and matrimonial property, and potential criminal penalties.
The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law was passed by a vote of 524 to 44, with 8 abstentions, by Burma’s two houses of parliament sitting in a joint session. The final version of the bill has not been made public. The legislation now goes to the president for his signature.
“The Special Marriage Law is a blatant attempt to curb interfaith marriages with absurd claims of helping Buddhist women,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “It’s the latest potential trigger for anti-Muslim violence pushed by religious extremists, and the president shouldn’t sign it.”
Besides being discriminatory, the bill violates internationally protected rights to privacy, religious belief, and equal protection of the law. It “only concerns Myanmar Buddhist women and their non-Buddhist husbands,” and applies to all Burmese Buddhist women age 18 or over. The law permits the township (district level) registrar to publicly display a couple’s application for marriage for 14 days, and permits any objections to the marriage to be taken to local court. The law places further discriminatory restrictions on women under age 20, who are required to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardian to marry a non-Buddhist.
So any bozo could come along and have “objections” to your marriage and take them to a local court!
The law also requires a non-Buddhist husband to respect the free practice of his spouse’s Buddhist religion, including displaying Buddhist imagery and statues, and engaging in Buddhist ceremonies. He must refrain from “committing deliberate and malicious acts, such as writing, or speaking, or behaving or gesturing with intent to outrage feelings of Buddhists.” Violations of these provisions are grounds for divorce, and in such a case the non-Buddhist husband would be forced to give up his share of jointly owned property, owe his wife compensation, and be denied custody of the children.
Talk about micro-managing things that are none of the state’s business…
The Special Marriage Law is part of a package of four so-called Race and Religion Protection Laws urged on Burma’s lawmakers by the increasingly powerful and influential Association of the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha is a nationwide collective of senior Buddhist abbots and influential monks, many of whom frequently denounce Burma’s Muslim minorities, especially stateless Rohingya Muslims. Ma Ba Tha first proposed a draft marriage bill in 2013. The government released a version in late 2014 that was drafted by the Supreme Court, but it had only minor changes from the original Ma Ba Tha draft.
Yes we’re familiar with organizations of male clerics that creep around the landscape policing everything anyone does. They make life hell.
“The parliament and president shouldn’t pander to extremists but rather reject any proposed law that will further divide Burma’s communities,” Robertson said. “As the November 8 national election looms, enacting laws that embolden those who thrive on discrimination and communal violence is a dangerous development.”
It’s a damn nightmare.