A new marriage trend has emerged in Iran: people living together without exchanging vows. While this union is undermining the country’s religious values, more and more people are continuing to adopt this way of life. This practice is commonly referred to as the ‘white marriage’.
White Marriage Stats in Iran
There are no official estimates on the number of unmarried couples cohabiting in Iran. According to Siyavash Shahrivar, deputy governor of greater Tehran, white marriages are on the rise.
Nina Ansary, an expert on women’s rights in the Islamic Republic, said:
With about 60% of the population younger than 30, cohabitation is inevitable in Iran. Iranian women are fearless. Everything forbidden, from dancing to drinking to having sex, is being practiced underground. What’s remarkable about a generation born and raised in this climate is that they do not reflect the conservative laws.
She further shared:
Many Iranians cohabit before marriage. It’s economical. It’s a way to date and live together and not be bound by the heavyweight of marriage in a country that handicaps its youth at every turn. To mask their mores, many unmarried couples wear fake wedding bands and memorize each other’s family trees, small protections to make their phony marriages seem genuine if the police stop them. It’s just a way of self-preservation, a way to remain under the radar of orthodoxy.
Story of Nina and Ahmad
Nina and Ahmad have been living together in a small one-bedroom apartment in Tehran for years. They share the cost of groceries and split the rent; however, they are not married. The two have entered into a delicate but illegal marriage arrangement.
Nina is in her second white marriage with Ahmad. Speaking about the experience, she said:
Living together, though illegal, is more humane than a rushed marriage. My family doesn’t mind the living arrangement. They don’t stick their noses into my affairs. When you earn your living and are an independent woman, nobody should dare ask you about your marriage. We can break up whenever we want. We don’t know what our future will be like.
Ahmad finds white marriage extremely attractive too. He said:
Traditional marriage can be too expensive for young Iranians struggling to cope in a poor economy. Why on earth do we have to spend tens of millions of tomans to be locked into married life and potentially a costly divorce?
Iran, Islam, and Marriages
Islamic teachings are woven into all aspects of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a country where those who engage in sex, dating, or even hand-holding out of wedlock find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Therefore, this new marriage trend is raising eyebrows across the country. Last year, the chief of staff to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called cohabitation “shameful.”
Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, head of the Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran, said:
The Islamic ruler should vigorously fight this kind of lifestyle. Officials should show no mercy in cracking down on the practice.
While the government looks down on this trend, Iranians question if it’s the only way to tackle the nation’s rising divorce rate. According to media reports, the divorce rate has nearly tripled in the last 15 years as about 20% of marriages end in divorce.
Not only are divorces expensive in Iran, but they are also problematic for women to get. If a husband is unwilling to divorce his wife, she has to prove, legally that he has been physically abusive, has psychological problems, or has failed to fulfill his marital duties.
Justifying white marriage, 32-year-old Ziba, an Iranian living with her boyfriend Amir Ali, said:
Wedding ceremonies are getting more expensive, and dowries are neck-breaking. Traditional marriages are collapsing anyway. If one day we can afford it, we will get married. It’s not anyone’s business — our parents or our government.
Many Iranians, along with Ziba and Amir, now wonder how long unmarried Iranian couples will have to live a double life. They hope that one day Iran’s government will be more accepting of white marriage that is helping the people marry wisely and put an end to the rising divorce rates in the country.
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