Here at Have Faith, Will Parent, we know that while religion is often seen as a force that can push people apart, it also has the power to bring people of different faiths together as they come to realize that what they have in common is often greater than that which divides them.
But sometimes religion has a funny way of uniting people.
Sometimes folks of different faiths and different nationalities find each other not because they are pursuing freedom of religion but because they are pursuing freedom from religion.
Sometimes their fates become intertwined, on an important occasion in their lives, when the religious establishments in their respective countries make them feel compelled to turn elsewhere to tie the knot... and they end up turning to the same place, if only briefly.
For many Israeli and Lebanese couples, that place is Cyprus, and more specifically the marriage bureau in Larnaka.
In both Israel and Lebanon, marriage is seen by the government as a strictly religious affair, with no room for civil unions conducted in the country.
Israeli and Lebanese couples who want a nonreligious wedding often find themselves at the same marriage bureau, where they are unintentionally brought together by the rabbis, priests and imams who control marriages conducted within their state borders – and whom these couples would prefer to evade.
"They eat falafel, live on the Mediterranean and worry that a new war could erupt across the hostile border that separates them," writes Ben Hubbard, Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. "But many Israelis and Lebanese share something else: a desire to circumvent their respective religious authorities when getting married."
"That has been a boon for this sun-drenched beach town on the southern coast of Cyprus," Hubbard writes of Larnaka. "And since most of those taking advantage of the local civil marriage industry are from Israel and Lebanon, the marriage bureau – in a modest, accidental way – bridges one of the Middle East's deep divides."
[New York Times]
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