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Love beyond the law: Iran’s white marriages

Love beyond the law: Iran’s white marriages

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Life Women’s Rights Personal Freedoms

Friday 26 April 202405:24 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

قصص حبّ بعيدة عن عيون القانون والتقاليد… "الزواج الأبيض" في إيران


White marriage (from the French term, mariage blanc) describes a marriage that is not officially registered, allowing the couple to start their life together without a ceremony and without registering the marriage legally.

In most countries, this practice has no legal validity or legitimacy, and couples in this situation are usually deprived of the rights afforded by legal marriage. In Iran, white marriage is a relatively new phenomenon, and allows couples to live together amidst a culture and religious restrictions that prohibit cohabitation before marriage.


Legal consequences

In Iran, marriage must adhere to the principles of Sharia law, therefore, couples in a white marriage could face punishment and be subject to legal repercussions. The punishment varies depending on the degree of the illicit relationship, which may include penalties and discretionary punishment (ta'zir). The severity of the punishment depends on whether the relationship is described as adultery.

“Our arrangement differs from what is accepted in Iranian society. We try our best not to reveal the nature of our relationship, because society doesn't approve of this lifestyle.”

Article 221 of the Islamic Penal Code, under Iranian law, defines adultery as sexual intercourse between an unmarried man and woman. If such a relationship is proven to exist, it could be investigated as adultery, and both parties could be punished.


How does it work?

Various social, cultural, and economic developments have led to shifts in attitude towards marriage. In many parts of the world, people are more concerned about their independence than with marriage.

Shifting attitudes towards sex, marriage, gender and family can certainly be seen in Iran. Nonetheless, these topics are still taboo in Iranian society, and many Iranians avoid engaging in premarital sexual relationships.

In Iran, white marriage can mean one of two things: the first refers to a situation where a couple lives together without being officially married, but abstain from engaging in sexual relations. This contradicts Sharia law and Islamic principles and goes against Iranian societal norms.

“I have female friends who thought that this relationship would lead to marriage, so they entered into white marriages, but their relationships ended, and ultimately, they were thrown out of the house after becoming emotionally and economically dependent on their partners. To make matters worse, their families did not accept their return.”

The second concept of white marriage is when a couple lives together and have no interest in formal, or legal, marriage. Raseef22 met with an Iranian couple in their thirties, who asked to remain anonymous. These are educated, middle-class individuals, who would label their arrangement as a white marriage or cohabitation.

Early on in our conversation, the woman explained, “This differs from what is accepted in Iranian society, and we aren't supposed to do the things others do. In this type of marriage, there's no mention of the customs and additional expenses present in every official marriage. We try our best not to reveal the nature of our relationship, because society doesn't approve of this lifestyle.”

In Iran, marriage must adhere to Sharia law. If a couple lives together without being legally married, they could be punished.

We asked why the couple chose this arrangement, knowing the complications it would inevitably bring. The woman replied, “Life is difficult! Everyone has their own challenges. So do we. This lifestyle isn't strange to us, but it's strange to others, so we must conceal it, and honestly, that's the hardest part. If we were like others, we would have gotten married and lived together openly, without the need for such secrecy. Some of our friends and acquaintances know about it, while many don't. We're usually cautious about others finding out, and sometimes we feel comfortable enough to reveal it to some of our friends, but our colleagues or family cannot know.”

The man added, “Divorce statistics increase day by day, we don't want to be among them. To prevent that from happening to us if we were to get married officially, we need to get to know each other first. Then, if we get to know each other well and find that we're suitable for a shared life, maybe we'll make our marriage official. This is better than entering a permanent relationship like many people who do not know each other properly and eventually get separated with difficulty. We agreed to continue as long as there is love and respect between us.”

We asked the man how long he thinks is a suitable amount of time for a couple to get to know each other, and whether this type of knowledge can only be obtained by cohabitating. He explained, “The duration varies from couple to couple. For example, we have been together for three years now and have gotten to know each other for the most part, but what will we gain if we register our marriage, other than to impose complex rules on ourselves?! We are happy in our lives now, but we could also face problems in the future and separate.”

We asked the couple what the driving force behind their unconventional lifestyle choice was. The man leaned back in his chair, before admitting, “We have friends who decided to live together without being married or having any romantic relationship for economic reasons. Some had separated from their families, so chose to form companionships to save costs.”

Asked whether they would recommend their lifestyle to other young Iranians, the woman admitted, “Honestly, I don't know! In Iran, this type of marriage is like swimming against the current. That said, I enjoy the financial and personal independence, and I am confident about my partner's feelings towards me. But on the other hand, I have female friends who thought that this relationship would lead to marriage, so they entered into white marriages, but their relationships ended, and ultimately, they were thrown out of the house after becoming emotionally and economically dependent on their partners. To make matters worse, their families did not accept their return.”



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