DAMASCUS, Sy. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a decree Thursday legalizing same-sex marriage in his war-torn country, effectively making Syria the first nation in the Middle East to officially grant recognition to the LGBT community. Al-Assad said he has directed the military to enforce “the people’s right to same-sex marriage” by any means possible and in a display of power, ordered the public executions of some fifty imams who were said to be opponents of marriage equality.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Hadad and Sabeen Salib, the first Syrians to be married under the new law, walked hand-in-hand through the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. “This is a special day, not just for us but for all Syrians,” Salib later told Al Jazeera. “It is a great honor to be wed at Umayyad,” he added. The Umayyad Mosque is considered by many to be the fourth-holiest site in Islam.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in March of 2011, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes to escape violence and persecution. Nearly 50% of the displaced refugees have left Syria entirely, seeking refuge in neighboring countries as well as the Eurpoean Union and the United States.
Syria’s Information Minister, Dr. Omran Ahed al-Zoubi, told the Syrian Arab News Agency he expects many refugees will return now that same-sex marriage is legal in his country. “Syria is a beautiful country with a rich culture,” Ahed al-Zoubi said. “The people will return; you will even see non-Syrians begin to flock here.”
“This is a big step for Syria in terms of human rights,” said Carson Hess, an attorney with Human Rights Watch. “It’ll be interesting to see if other countries in the region follow suit.”