Turkey Table of Contents

As part of their rejection of the symbols of Islam, Atatürk and his associates outlawed traditional marriage practices. The 1926 civil code mandated that all marriages be registered with civil authorities. Marriages contracted before a member of the religious establishment henceforth were not recognized as lawful unions, and the children of such unions were considered illegitimate. The male prerogative to have up to four wives simultaneously, enshrined in Islamic law, was prohibited. Marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, a practice forbidden under Islamic law, became legal.

Traditionally, marriage has been--and frequently continues to be--a contract negotiated and executed by the families of the betrothed and blessed by a member of the religious establishment. Representatives of the bride and groom negotiate the contract, which stipulates such terms as the size and nature of the bride-price paid by the family of the groom to the family of the bride and whatever conditions of conjugal life are mutually agreeable. After a series of meetings between the two families, an exchange of gifts, and the display of the trousseau, the marriage is formalized at a ceremony presided over by a religious official. The civil code requires only that the bride and groom, as individuals, swear vows before two witnesses and a representative of the state who registers the union. Despite the legal necessity for civil marriage, traditional courtship and marriage practices persist. Many couples, especially among the lower classes in cities and in rural areas, hold two ceremonies, a religious one to satisfy their families and a civil one to entitle them to government social benefits, as well as to confer legitimacy on future children.

Despite government attempts to outlaw the bride-price, during the 1990s this traditional prenuptial practice has continued in both urban and rural areas. The payment of the bride-price involves considerable expenditures and often requires financial cooperation from a number of kinfolk. The exact amount and the terms of payment form a part of the premarital negotiations. For example, the families sometimes agree to postpone payment of the full bride-price until after the wedding, stipulating that the full amount must be paid in the event of divorce, a practice that provides some protection for the bride if the match subsequently proves incompatible. Ordinarily the amount of the bride-price is directly related to the status of the families involved. However, the amount tends to be less if the two families have a close blood relationship. For these reasons, among others, most rural and urban families continue to prefer that their children marry closely related kin--first or second cousins.

Divorce also is affected by the civil code. Under Islamic law, a man can initiate divorce easily and is not required to cite any reasons; the grounds on which a woman can seek divorce, however, are tightly restricted, and she is obligated to prove fault on her husband's part. Under the civil code, divorce, like marriage, is not recognized as legitimate unless registered with civil authorities. The code permits either partner to initiate divorce proceedings, but the state, which claims an interest in maintaining marriage unions, especially in cases involving children, decides whether to grant a request for divorce.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress