A comprehensive study conducted in 194 countries (including most United Nations member countries) revealed that freedom of marriage (grade 2) or a status close to freedom of marriage exists in 48% of them (93 countries). Fifty-six countries (29%) received the grade of "1," reflecting limited freedom of marriage.
The Jewish state is the only Western democracy to receive the lowest grade, mostly due to the religious monopoly on marriage which prevents hundreds of thousands of citizens from marrying within its borders.
Israel in last group of countries
Seventy-three percent of the countries ranked alongside Israel with the lowest grade are Muslim, including all of its neighbors (the Palestinian Authority too), as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and others.
On the other end, the Christian stable democracies that practice liberal policies in different areas of personal status grant their citizens the widest variety of marriage options.
300,000 disqualified from marriage in Israel (Photo: Israel Bardugo)
The findings were published by Hiddush on its website and on the Worldwide Freedom of Marriage Map application, which were launched this week in English and in Hebrew with the assistance of the New Israel Fund.
A wide variety of sources were examined in order to reach a consistent and fair evaluation of the status of freedom of marriage around the world. Two of the main sources for the project consisted of yearly reports of the United States Department of State: The Freedom of Religion Report and the Human Rights Report for each country.
The following rating system was used: Grade "0" was given for severe restrictions on freedom of marriage; "1" for partial restrictions on freedom of marriage, meaning: Significant discrimination in certain areas or a number of minor restrictions; "2" for complete or almost complete freedom of marriage.
The vast majority of countries that were given the grade of "0" are those in which the marriage laws are based on a strict conservative interpretation of the dominant religion and in which no civil alternative to religious marriage is available. These are predominantly countries in which Islamic Sharia law serves as the legal framework for marriage.
Some examples for this grade include: Recognition of several parallel legal systems for marriage; customary or religious laws causing discrimination against women and/or underage marriages; forced marriages; and in some cases polygamy.
Israel was ranked in the third and last group of countries as Israeli law permits only religious marriages held by religious testimony, and does not allow civil marriages. Among the Jewish population, the Chief Rabbinate, which operates according to Orthodox Jewish standards, has a monopoly over marriage. Only those who are recognized as Jews according to Orthodox Jewish law can get married in Israel.
Like in East Africa
More than 300,000 citizens (4% of Israel's population) are defined as "without religion" and are unable to get married in the country. These are usually descendants of a Jewish father or grandfather and a non-Jewish mother or grandmother.
There are also individuals who are Jewish according to Orthodox law, but who lose their marriage rights in certain circumstances. Those defined by the rabbinical authorities as illegitimate (born to a women who conceived a child with a man who is not her husband) are considered ineligible for marriage.
Divorced women are not allowed to marry men who carry any of the traditional "Cohen" family names (denoting families who are considered to be the direct descendants of the ancient Israelite priests and who, by law, are forbidden from marrying divorcees and converts).
Hiddush's Vice President for Research and Information Shahar Ilan, who edited the project, says the Freedom of Marriage Map shows a clear geographic picture of a strong core of countries that severely restrict freedom of marriage.
North, East, and Central Africa, the Middle East, and Western and Central Asia create a large black area in the center of the map. This core is surrounded from the east (Asia) and the south (South and West Africa) by a large number of countries in which there are partial restrictions over freedom of marriage. They create the two large grey areas on the map.
In the north, west, and southeast regions of the globe (the four continents colored in white: The Americas, Europe, and Oceania), there is almost full freedom of marriage.
Europe gives the clearest picture: Forty-four out of the 46 countries provide their citizens with freedom of marriage. In one country (Albania) there are restrictions over freedom of marriage. In the Vatican, there are severe restrictions over freedom of marriage.
'Historic opportunity for civil marriage'
Further analysis of the findings reveals that in 120 countries (close to two-thirds of the world's countries) the dominant religion is Christianity. In these countries more than two-thirds (82 countries) have freedom of marriage. Only eight Christian countries experience severe restrictions that warrant the grade of "0."
In 53 countries, the dominant religion is Islam. Only three of these countries (6%) enjoy freedom of marriage. In 33 of these countries, or close to two-thirds of the Islamic world, there are severe restrictions in marriage laws (grade of "0").
According to Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev, this first-of-its-kind document demonstrates Israel's bleak situation being ranked alongside intolerant Islamic countries – as opposed to the democratic world.
He expressed his hope that the project would benefit not only Israelis, but any person in the world working for freedom of religion and equality in their country.
Regev also hopes that the publication of the grim picture will help promote full freedom of marriage in Israel, as promised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Declaration of Independence.
"A clear majority among the Israeli public supports that, and the recent elections have created a historic opportunity to establish civil marriage in Israel which we must not miss."