In the United States, it is not uncommon for people to marry outside of their religion. However, Indonesia is one of about two dozen countries with no provision for civil marriages. Others include Israel and almost all of the Arab states.
In these countries, only unions conducted according to officially recognized religions can be registered. In Indonesia, for example, children of unregistered unions cannot get birth certificates, without which they struggle to receive health care or schooling.
According to The Economist magazine, some couples of differing faiths, or none, go abroad for a civil ceremony. Each year about 3,000 couples from the Middle East get married in Cyprus, which brands itself the “island of love”.
It has been suggested that part of the problem is political. Governments often fear angering politically powerful religious groups. In Lebanon, marriages and other matters of family law, such as divorce and inheritance, are left to religious courts of 18 Muslim, Christian and other sects.
Religious leaders fear that an interfaith marriage would end up with one of the partners converting. In many places, anyone who dares to wed across religious lines faces ostracism, and perhaps violence.1
Such restrictions against the freedom to marry seem unfair to us in the West. I have witnessed many successful marriages that crossed these artificial barriers. Who knows the ways of the human heart?