As reported in Mizzima (‘Myanmar parliament to debate controversial religion laws‘) a set of laws proposed by Buddhist monks have been accepted by the Burmese President, Thein Sein, and will now be debated by the Burmese parliament in the new year.
The draft legislation has been proposed by a group led by Buddhist monks known as Mabatha (Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion) and has many controversial elements:
A draft of the marriage bill was published in Myanmar language state media on December 3, laying out a web of rules governing marriage between Buddhist women and men of other faiths.
Couples would have to apply to local authorities, and the woman’s parents if she is under 20, and a notice would be displayed publicly announcing the engagement. Only if there were no objections could the nuptials take place.
The penalty for non-compliance would be two years in prison.
The religious conversion draft, published earlier this year, would also require anyone wanting to change religion to seek a slew of bureaucratic permissions.
As I have stated before:
The laws are being proposed on the premise that Buddhism is under threat from other religions. The ‘Interfaith Marriage Act’ is one of the ‘National Race and Religion Protection Bills’ that have been proposed by ‘Organisation for Protection of National Race and Religion’ (OPNRR), headed by Ashin Tilawka Biwuntha. It is clear from the context of the monastic debate that the monks wish to prohibit marriage between Buddhist women and Muslim men – it is then highly discriminatory with undertones of racism and Islamophobia.
There are a few obvious points that should be made about these proposed laws. Buddhism is a monastic tradition – it usually has little concern with secular affairs – and this historically most definitely includes marriage. It is commonplace in Buddhism to observe that there are no Buddhist marriage ceremonies. The monastics might in some ways ‘bless’ a couple after a secular marriage ceremony, and modern Buddhists might have replicated marriage ceremonies from other religions, but it can be stated quite categorically that the Buddhist monastic is not concerned with any type of marriage ceremony. It is this that makes the Burmese monastic debate such an odd phenomenon.
It needs to be stated that, traditionally, the Buddhist monastic is concerned with three things. First, the notion that all actions have consequences; that these actions are causing us to be reborn in an endless cycle of rebirths; and that, given the opportune conditions, the person should strive to end this cycle of rebirths which is pervaded by suffering. In short the monastic is concerned with Karma, Saṃsāra and Nibbāna.