Union Parliament Passes ‘Interfaith Marriage’ Bill

By Nobel Zaw 8 July 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Parliament on Tuesday passed a controversial bill that critics say would create unnecessary restrictions for marrying outside of one’s faith.

If signed by the President, the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Act—popularly called the Interfaith Marriage Bill—would require Buddhist women to seek permission from local authorities before marrying a man of another faith.

The bill is one of four in a legislative package proposed by the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha, an acronym for the Association for Protection of Race and Religion. A highly criticized Population Control Law was the first of the four to be signed into law in May.

The bills sped through the legislature with little resistance, though the package was heavily criticized beyond the nation’s chambers. Rights advocates and international observers have lambasted the proposed laws for limiting women’s freedoms and creating restrictions that could be used to target ethnic minorities.

Parliament was overwhelmingly positive on Tuesday, passing the bill with 524 votes in favor, 44 against and eight abstentions.

Just before Tuesday’s vote, however, Lower House lawmaker Zar Ta Lan, a member of the Chin National Democratic Party, appealed to her peers to reject the bill. Zar Ta Lan argued that enacting it could violate several international human rights treaties to which Burma is party, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In a last-minute address to the chambers, Zar Ta Lan said that “the [Interfaith Marriage] Law is meant to discriminate against ethnic [minorities’] belief in different religions.”

A joint bill committee was quick to defend the legislation, claiming it was little more than an upgrade to the Buddhist Women Special Marriage and Inheritance Act, passed in 1954.