Permission to Divorce
If you’re facing a divorce in the United States and you think it’s a bad situation, just remember, it could always be worse. You could be a Coptic Christian living in Egypt where the Coptic Orthodox Church’s near total ban on divorce makes it such a social shame that no matter how terrible or abusive a marriage is, obtaining a divorce is nearly impossible.
People don’t usually think about Christians living in predominantly Muslim Egypt, but there are about 8 million Christians living in the country today and almost all are in the Coptic Church. Egypt’s Muslims have become more religiously conservative in the last few decades and so has its Christian population. The Egyptian government is not the major power in the country’s daily life, as Islamic religious groups have most of the authority.
Since there are no civil marriages or divorces held in Egypt, couples must turn to their religious leaders and churches which, in the case of the Coptic Church, may not grant permission for either. The Coptic Church has permitted annulments only occasionally and in most cases has not allowed divorced couples to remarry either. A divorcing couple used to be able to turn to Egyptian civil courts if the Church refused them the right, however a new law proposed for adoption may soon close that option altogether.
The bill proposed in Egypt’s parliament would prevent civil judges from contradicting church law in personal status cases involving Christians. If the law passes, the result will likely be an even tighter grip on the lives of members of the Coptic Christian faith. The Coptic Church currently only allows divorce in cases of adultery, conversion to Islam or a change of denomination. The change of denomination clause left some wiggle room for Copts who would simply convert to Catholicism or the Protestant Church to get a divorce. The proposed law will do away with that option and could result in divorce-seeking Coptic Christians to convert to Islam in order to obtain a divorce. Some have said they expect to see a mass emigration to Islam due to the new law.
If the whole situation sounds difficult, complicated and tense, it’s because it is, and religious conversions in Egypt have often sparked violence between Muslims and Christians in the past. Thankfully, obtaining a divorce here in the United States is far less complicated and you do not need the permission of your Church to do it either.