For Interfaith Couples In Indonesia, Love Is Not All They Need


By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

When Eugenius Audax Aditya and Tegar Yudha Restuti decided to wed, they knew it wouldn’t be easy.

He’s Catholic and she’s Muslim. And in Islamic-majority Indonesia, interfaith marriage is a legal and social minefield.

So after they became wed in 2020 through separate Catholic and Islamic ceremonies, they recorded their Christian marriage at the civil registry office. That gave them legal status as husband and wife.

But a recent move by Indonesia’s Supreme Court may make it more difficult for such couples to legalize their unions, raising concerns for people like Aditya and Restuti as well, because some are now questioning the validity of their marriage.

The court this month instructed the lower courts to reject any request to legalize interfaith marriage as a requirement for registration.

“The court[s] can’t grant any request for registration of marriages between people of different religions and beliefs,” the Supreme Court wrote in a letter circulated to the lower courts.

Some activists said the court’s order was a clear violation of people’s constitutional rights, such as freedom of religion. Activists say the court ignored the reality of Indonesia’s diverse society – Christians make up more than 10% of Indonesia’s 270 million people.

But the court cited an article of the 1974 marriage law that stipulates a marriage is valid if it is performed according to the regulations of each religion and belief. This article is generally interpreted as prohibiting marriage between people of different religions. 

It, however, doesn’t categorically forbid marriage between people of different religions, so what the article means is a matter of interpretation, or of who is doing the interpreting – ergo it’s a minefield.

Legal loophole

Ahmad Nurcholis, a director at the Indonesia Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), said there was no article in the Marriage Law to explicitly prohibit interfaith marriage. ICRP has helped an estimated 1,660 couples register their interfaith marriages since 2005.

Many progressive judges across the country had granted requests for registration of interfaith marriages, Nurcholis said. His group advocates for interreligious dialogue and harmony.

“There’s a problematic article [in the marriage] law which is often understood by state officials and civil registry officers as requiring couples to be of the same religion,” he told BenarNews. 

ICRP facilitates interfaith marriages by providing counseling, mentoring and legal assistance for couples who face difficulties in getting married and obtaining civil documents.

Before the Supreme Court’s recent letter, couples took advantage of a legal loophole by registering their marriage according to one of their religions that allowed interfaith marriage, such as Catholicism or Hinduism. 

The couples did not have to convert to that religion, but only perform a ceremony according to its rites. They could then obtain a marriage certificate from that religion’s court or institution, which they could then use to register their marriage at the civil registry office.

Aditya, 32, believes he and his wife Muslim wife Restuti, 30, should not be affected by the Supreme Court’s order to the lower courts.

“Our marriage is already officially registered and we have all the documents, so it’s not a problem,” he told BenarNews.

But he said their neighbors and the chief of the Jakarta area they live in have questioned the validity of their marriage – again.

‘Misguided’ judges

That’s because some people, like parliamentarian Susanto, who precipitated the Supreme Court move, say Islamic law allows Muslim men – but not Muslim women – to marry outside the religion.

Susanto, a member of the National Mandate Party, had urged the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that allowed a Christian man and a Muslim woman to register their marriage.

He said the ruling went against a religious edict by Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). The 2005 edict said interfaith marriage was forbidden and invalid in Indonesia. 

When the top court issued its order after Susanto’s initial urging, the MUI praised it.

“The Supreme Court circular on the invalidity of interfaith marriage and the prohibition of registering invalid marriages is part of respect and tolerance for the teachings of religions,” said Cholil Nafis, a deputy chairman at the MUI.

A politician from the Justice and Prosperity Party, Hidayat Nur Wahid, was also happy, saying it would stop “misguided” judges who exploited legal gaps to approve interfaith marriage registrations.

Meanwhile in January, the Constitutional Court said marriage involved state interests as well as religious ones, as it quashed any criticism that the government had no business getting involved in citizens’ personal lives.

The court made this comment while rejecting a suit against the marriage law filed by a Catholic man who wanted to marry a Muslim woman.

‘Problems arise when the government interferes’

Interfaith couples in Indonesia face many hurdles, with the first one coming from the parents, Nurcholis, of Indonesia Conference on Religion and Peace, said.

Family members often don’t want their child to marry someone from a different religion, he said.

“If they can overcome this, the next hurdle is to face the court to register their interfaith marriage,” he said.

Aditya and Restuti faced both difficulties.

“Restuti’s family initially did not approve of our relationship. That’s why we dated for quite a long time, 10 years,” he said, with a laugh.  

Aryo Pradana, a 26-year-old Muslim man in Jakarta, broke up with his Catholic girlfriend because of such problems.

They had thought one of them would convert to the other’s religion so they could wed, and then return to their original religion after getting married.

“That was a consideration, but finally we decided not to go ahead,” Aryo told BenarNews.

But some, such as Aditya and Restuti, choose love over any obstacle. They are happy with their decision and don’t regret it, they said.

“Religious differences between me and my wife are not a problem,” Aditya said.

“Problems arise when the government interferes with things that are not its duty.”


BenarNews’ mission is to provide readers with accurate news and information that reflects the complex and ever-changing world around them. With homepages in Bengali, Thai, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and English, BenarNews brings timely news to its diverse audience. Copyright BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews

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