The events remain illegal, and at times the police still show up, sometimes to collect kickbacks, but mixed weddings have become a large industry here, and the venues host marriages almost every night.
“There is just so much demand for modern weddings that the state has decided to tolerate it most of the time,” said Asal Rastakhiz, 36, a prominent wedding photographer.
When millions joined the clerical-led revolution that ousted the Western-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979, strict Islamic laws had widespread public support as a preparation for the afterlife. But not too many years later, the consensus began breaking down, and Iran’s clerical government and the increasingly modern society it leads have been engaged in a tug of war ever since.
Despite monopolizing Iran’s politics, the educational system, the courts, the security forces and most news media outlets, Iran’s conservative leaders have long been in retreat. While the laws are rarely changed, the flagging public support makes enforcement of the rules increasingly complex, with many former taboos now tolerated by society.
“This ruling theocracy is stuck in its own proclaimed ideology, which is not clear and predictable,” said Shahla Lahiji, a publisher and civil rights activist. “It cannot even accept an iota of change in law and can only tolerate change if is forced to do so by the people.”
The pendulum can swing widely in Iran, with periods of relative liberality alternating with crackdowns. During the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, for example, the police presence was far heavier. But that ended in 2013, and even then, people kept pushing for more personal freedoms. Most Iranians say the changes underway are so widespread and so widely accepted that it would take a cataclysm for them to be reversed.