The government of Tunisia has denied recent claims from local activist Mounir Baatour of the LGBTQ+ rights group Sham that the government had recognized same-sex marriage. Tunisian Minister of Local Affairs Lotfi Zitoun told his country’s legislature the marriage between a 31-year-old Frenchman and his 26-year-old Tunisian partner was not recognized by the government, according to a report in the French-language Webdo.
While French law has recognized marriage equality since 2013 following a series of challenges to the 2011 law, it remains illegal in Tunisia. Zitoun noted that French law requires both partners come from countries where the marriage would be legal.
"This is not the case in Tunisia,” he is quoted in Webdo.
The decision, while not unexpected, was met with dismay.
“This ruling is disappointing but not unexpected,” LGBTQ+ and human-rights activist Peter Tatchell told The Jerusalem Post. “A same-sex marriage conducted in France appeared to be recognized by default by the Tunisian authorities, possibly due an administrative oversight. The Tunisian government has now confirmed that it does not recognize such marriages,”
Mounir Baatour, president of the Tunisian LGBTQ+ group Sham had claimed that a marriage between the French and Tunisian men had been recognized by the government when a local Tunisian clerk had entered the French man’s name as the Tunisian man’s husband on official government paperwork.
“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.
The decision reflects the current state of LGBTQ+ rights in the North African country whose heritage dates to Hannibal and Carthage’s famed battle with Rome. The 62-year-old deeply conservative law professor Kais Saied, nicknamed The Robot for his stern and humorless demeanor, was elected President in a landslide victory last October, mainly with the support of disaffected the country's 18 to 25-year-old demographic. Saied, who ran as an independent but is supported by local Islamist groups, has called LGBTQ+ persons deviants who are part of a Western plot to corrupt his country. The political novice ran a barebones, anti-corruption campaign and favors the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality, and a return to sharia law.
Despite the announcement, Tatchell remains optimistic.
“This dashes the hopes of LGBT couples in the Arab world that their love could finally secure recognition and rights in one of their own countries,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Despite this setback, the global battle for LGBT+ rights continues, and there will eventually come a day when Arab and Muslim countries will grant same-sex marriage and other LGBT+ rights.”