A draft of a proposed anti-interfaith marriage law has been spread on social networks since the beginning of last month. Its main intention, as stated in its Burmese language booklet, is to restrict Buddhist women from marrying men of other faiths.
“Whoever marries with a Myanmar Buddhist woman against above sections shall be punished with imprisonment of 10 years and all his properties shall be transferred to that Myanmar Buddhist woman,” says point no. 6 of the drafted law. It states that someone who wants to marry a Buddhist woman must be a Buddhist with an official certificate stating he is a Buddhist. The criteria to obtain that certificate is not mentioned.
It is unclear who initiated the proposal for the controversial anti-interfaith law. Many believe that nationalist monks started an “emergency marriage act for Myanmar Buddhist women” campaign.
According to the 27-page document, which is in Burmese, this new law is meant to protect Buddhist women who are losing their rights by getting married to followers of other religions. It says that other religions, such as Islam, force Buddhist women to convert to their beliefs when they marry its followers.
Opinions on the newly proposed law is divided. While many nationalists echo that the purpose of this law is essential for a predominantly Buddhist nation, others, especially women’s rights activists, have voiced their disagreement.
Supporters of the anti-interfaith marriage act, which is known as the National Protection Law, point out that there are restrictions against marriage with Muslims and people of other faiths in neighbouring Singapore.
Although the majority of the public think that the initiative on this act is related to the 969 movement led by monks, leading monks in favor of the anti-marriage act asserted that the campaign for marriage act has no link with the 969 movement during a press section on July 27. The leading monks and followers held a workshop to further discuss the proposed law on July 9 and 10 in order to refine it to submit to parliament.
The current Myanmar Customary Law allows Buddhist women to marry anyone, regardless of his religion. When there are disputes between a Buddhist woman and non-Buddhist man, only the 1954 Buddhist Women Special Marriage and Inheritance Act, which protect Buddhist women’s rights, shall be applicable to all parties.
Not only have online debates started since the drafted law was posted online but offline movements are also being carried out. There are campaigns that are led by new law supporters asking for signatures from the public stating that they agree to enact such anti-interfaith marriage laws. Unconfirmed reports say that some people, including university students, were forced to sign without their consent.
On the other hand, some activists have voiced their disagreement on the drafted law. The Women’s Organisation Network of Myanmar denounced it on the grounds that it restricts Burmese women’s rights instead of promoting women’s opportunities.
Since Burma stepped into its current reform period, the public is speaking up more for their rights and voicing their opinion on different aspects of law and daily life. It would be a challenge for a democratic transition in Burma to deal with supporters of this anti-marriage law.