marriage

How to Marry Somebody of a Different Religion In Indonesia

It's not as hard as you think.

by Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja
13 April 2018, 11:25am

Illustration by Dini Lestari

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

So you've finally met "the one." You feel pretty secure in your relationship, and you've decided that it wouldn't be such a bad thing to spend the rest of your life with this person. There's only one issue: you both follow different religions. Elsewhere this wouldn't be that big of an issue. But this isn't elsewhere. This is Indonesia.

Indonesian law doesn't actually say an interfaith marriage is against the rules. But it also doesn't say it's allowed, and this gray area is where couples run into resistance. Since the state doesn't dictate the terms of a marriage, it falls on the shoulders of the religious leaders themselves (since you can't have no religion in Indonesia, but that's a whole other issue). So while some religious leaders are open to interfaith marriage, plenty of others aren't.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that in Islam there's a lot of confusion on whether interfaith marriages are OK. Some ulama say no way, requiring the non-Muslim spouse to convert before the wedding. Others say it's fine as long as the man is Muslim and the woman a member of an Abrahamic religion (meaning Protestant or Catholic, since Judaism also isn't recognized). And then there's a third group, albeit a small one, that says there's no problem whatsoever.

Now if you want to get married and you can't find a religious leader to sanction the whole thing, then good luck getting the state to recognize the marriage. This means that, for many couples, interfaith relationships are a clear deal breaker. But it doesn't have to be.

The Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) has counseled more than 3,000 interfaith couples going through the same thing. To date, they've helped facilitate more than 800 legal interfaith marriages. How? We called up Ahmad Nurcholish, of the ICRP, to explain.

Breaking down the law

So why do most people think interfaith marriages are prohibited in Indonesia? The answer lies in the interpretation of Article 2, Clause 1 of the Marriage Law that says, “A marriage is valid if conducted according to laws of religion and belief of both sides.”

“Constitutionally speaking, marrying across faiths is very doable," Ahmad told VICE. "For example, under the Marriage Law, there is no explicit ban on interfaith marriage. The law only regulates the execution of a marriage, which needs to be conducted according to the rules of each religion.”

Indonesia's Human Rights Law also supports this. It mentions at least 60 human rights that can’t be intervened in or reduced by anyone, among them is the right to choose your own spouse, get married, start a family, and having kids.

Ahmad also added that legality aside, from a religious perspective, it's not impossible to enter an interfaith marriage. While the vast majority of religious leaders, especially Muslim leaders, think that interfaith marriage is wrong, there are still plenty of others (especially in minority religions) who see nothing wrong with it at all, according to a study conducted by Ahmad and the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

The wedding itself

OK, so maybe you found some religious leaders willing to sanction your interfaith marriage. What's next? The wedding! But how do you have a wedding when both sides follow different faiths? Ahmad explained that you could always choose one faith, or even both.

Once you finish with the religious ceremony, it's the duty of the state to register the marriage—thus making it legal. But the problem here is that not everyone at the Population and Civil Registration office is willing to sign off on an interfaith marriage, regardless of the opinions of the religious figures in your corner. Maybe this comes from ignorance or religious bias, but regardless of the reason why, it can definitely put a chill on your special day.

"This is a matter of ignorance," Ahmad told VICE. "Even the state officials don’t fully comprehend their own constitution. Consequently, many of them are not willing to accommodate interfaith marriages."

So where should we get married?

This is a really important question. Why? Because some Population and Civil Registration Agency offices are known for being more tolerant of interfaith marriages than others. Try Yogyakarta, Salatiga, Surabaya, and Denpasar if you want a headache-free meeting.

In other areas you might find it pretty difficult to actually convince a public official to sign off on your marriage. Even with all the necessary permits from religious leaders, a Civil Registration officer might still refuse to validate your wedding and say come back when both IDs list the same faith.

So how do you get around uncooperative officials? Sadly it's not as easy as just packing your bags and flying to a more agreeable city. Your marriage needs to be registered in your city of residence, so unless one of you can change your registered address to a more liberal city, you're out of luck.

Unless, of course, you exploit the biggest loophole of all: a destination wedding.

Getting married overseas

Things are far less strict overseas. If you can't convince someone in your hometown to let you tie the knot, then it's probably time for a trip abroad. The loophole here is that other countries will legally officiate a wedding of non-citizens, and then the local Indonesian Embassy has to recognize the marriage as real.

Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong are popular destinations for interfaith couples looking to put a ring on it. Sure, it's A LOT more expensive than just doing it at home, but if you can keep things small and afford the flights, then it's also A LOT less hassle.

This is exactly what Sabrina Sinaga, a protestant who is married to a Muslim man, did last April. The couple flew to Singapore for a quick marriage and made an end-run around Indonesia's restrictive civil servants entirely.

“We chose Singapore because our friends got married there a year ago, so we had all the necessary information,” Sabrina told VICE. “Compared to other countries, Singapore is familiar enough and it's not too far from Indonesia.”

All the documents you need are pretty similar to any other marriage registration, she explained. Sabrina and her husband Aldy Firstanto got registered at the Singaporean Registry of Marriage, where they were met with a long line of Indonesian couples doing exactly the same thing.

“It seems like a lot Indonesian couples get married there," she told VICE. "I registered in January but only got a date in April."

Once she got her marriage certificate from Singapore, all Sabrina had to do was bring it over to the local Indonesian Embassy before heading home. Embassy officials checked the certificate and issued her a letter saying she was legally married in Singapore. She then dropped all these documents off at her local Population and Civil Registration office and picked up her marriage certificate three days later.

In the end the whole thing cost $380 SGD ($287 USD) in administrative fees alone. But considering how much some Indonesians spend on their weddings, maybe that's not so bad after all.

"The cost can differ," she said. "It's cheaper if you get married on a weekday."

So much paperwork

So once you're all married, there's still the paperwork part of the union. All interfaith and non-Muslim couples registered by the Population and Civil Registration Agency will receive a marriage certificate that doesn't list their faiths. With this certificate, the couple then needs to apply for an official state family card, and if they have children their birth certificates, and IDs and all of that. The religion of your children depends on whatever agreement the husband and wife chooses before they get married.

So legally speaking it's not really all that hard, as long as you don't mind devoting some time and energy to the whole process. And if you can't find the energy to jump through some loopholes, then you probably shouldn't be getting married in the first place. (All marriages are work, trust us).

The real hard part of interfaith marriages is everyone else. You're going to need to show up for so many holidays, tolerate each other's beliefs, each other's families, and judgmental comments from people who probably shouldn't be telling you their opinions in the first place.

Sabrina told VICE that she doesn't care. Love is love, regardless of religion.

“I never agreed with this grouping of religions," Sabrina said. "Being religious doesn’t guarantee that someone is a better person. It's (an interfaith marriage) is not an easy decision to make, but hopefully, it would bring about more peace on Earth.”