From Brazil’s Correio da Bahia
Tatiany Carvalho

Candomblé terreiros are now officially permitted by law to effect African marriage ceremonies. The dreams of women and men initiated in the African religions of legally recognized marriages, supported by official documents, will materialize beginning in July. The project directed by the president of the National Federacy of African Cults (Fenacab), Aristides Mascarenhas, Brasilia did not even request the National Congress’s approval, since the Brazilian Constitution supports full liberty of religious expression.

Once so-called “framing of the Constitution” is accomplished, the next stage in the legal process, that should occur in June, is attending a preparatory course for the religious ministers that will perform the ceremonies, ogãs, oluwôs and babalawôs, the people most qualified to carry out the ceremonies. As is the case with the Catholic Church, the necessary documents and licenses must be first taken to the notary’s office, and after that, to make it effective, to the terreiro where the marriage will take place. Mascarenhas explains that until now, the marriages that took place in Candomblé terreiros were only symbolic, but not legally binding. “The Pai-do-santo joined the couples’ hands and carried out the ceremony,” he explains.

According to the president of the Fenacab’s calculations, more than ten thousand people initiated in Candomblé live as “husband and wife,” recognized solely by the African deities. Mascarenhas believes that the accomplishment of the civil marriage in the proper terreiros will further strengthen the ties with African religion, and with time many members will no longer need to recur to the Catholic Church to confirm the exchange of vows. Throughout the state, there are 5,900 officially recognized terreiros, and at least 2,700 of them are in Salvador. According to Mascarenhas, the true figures are probably closer to 20 a thousand terreiros.

The city’s Public Defenders’ office and public defender Genaldo Lemos Couto were the major proponents of Fenacab’s project before Brasilia. Correio da Bahia was unable to reach Lemos Coutos to obtain his comments for this article. According to Mascarenhas, the first unions to take place in the terreiros will be collective unions of approximately 15 couples. Currently, the Fenacab says that there are at least eight candidates. One of them is the babalaxé (he who inherits the position of the bearer of the terreiro) Antoniel Ataíde Bispo, of the Terreiro Ominatôsse, in Cidade Nova. “This is the first example that we will provide to our society that we really are a religion,” declared Bispo, who opposes the typical private character of most Candomblé rituals. The Babalaxé highlights the importance of these civil unions especially in cases involving inheritances, that, after the formal unions, will be valid proof before the law in cases of contested inheritances.

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