The Republic of Tunisia may have just become the first Arabic country to recognize marriage equality. That's the claim of Mounir Baatour, President of the local LGBTQ+ rights group Sham, regarding a marriage between two men officially recognized by a local municipality in Tunisia.
"While homosexuality is still punished with prison in Tunisia, and several gay people are currently in Tunisian prisons, a gay marriage has just been included in the birth certificate of a Tunisian," Baatour wrote on Sham's Facebook page.
According to Baatour, a Tunisian man who relocated to France and gotten married, returned to the small municipality he was born in to start the official migration process. As a part of the paperwork, officials in the Tunisian municipality entered his partner's name on his birth certificate, thereby making state recognition of the marriage official.
While questions remain as to the legality of the move under Tunisian law, Baatour is quick to point out the historic nature of the moment.
"It shows that Tunisia will not be able to resist the natural course of history in the world," Baatour wrote. "It will also have consequences in terms of law."
Local reaction has been dangerously negative, and the names of the two men, as well as the municipality in question, have not been made public out of concerns for privacy and safety. Lotfi Zitoun, Tunisian Minister of Local Affairs, questioned the legality of the recognition.
"There is no centralization of civil status data at the Ministry of Local Affairs," Zitoun told Nawaat according to a translation. "We are therefore in the process of verifying the information, If it is true, know that it is against the law ... There was a precedent, an error committed by the municipality of Tunis. And it has been rectified."
As a lawyer, politician, and LGBTQ+ activist in Tunisia, Baatour is no stranger to controversy and threats against his life. He ran for President in the country's November elections last year, and has been living in France since January due in part to his unpopular opinions and policies. In 2018, he took part in a televised debate spurned in part by his advocacy of diplomatic relations with Israel, which was later translated by the Middle East Research Institute.
"You are mercenaries fighting alongside the enemies," Tunisian Member of Parliament Ammar Amroussia is quoted in the video. "You are ideological and cultural mercenaries in the ranks of the enemies."
While Baatour sees the recognition as historic, others urged caution.
"This recognition of a gay marriage is a milestone in the Arab world," noted British and Australian LGBTQ and human rights activist Peter Tatchell told The Jerusalem Post. "But it is indirect recognition and not the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples."
Despite his words of caution, though, Tatchell expressed optimism at the development.
"Even if it is appealed or overturned, this is a breakthrough that will give hope to LGBT+ people in Tunisia and across North Africa and the Middle East."