MPs to clash as debate on marriage resumes
Posted Monday, March 11 2013 at 02:00
The battle lines have been drawn for yet another showdown between women and men over attempts to compel cohabiting couples to share property and ban marriage gifts in the proposed family law, which crept through Parliament last week.
Parliament, which began amending the draft last week, will meet again tomorrow to try and complete the Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2009. But attempts to recognise cohabitation in relation to sharing property yet this kind of relationship is not recognised in the 1995 Constitution is expected to form the highlight of the debate.
“We don’t make laws in isolation. If we encourage cohabitation, then as leaders I don’t think we are offering the right guidance to the people of Uganda. You can marry ten women but not cohabiting, this is not right, said Angellina Osegge (FDC, Soroti Woman MP).
On Thursday last week, the lawmakers approved the first of the controversial clauses, which abolishes refunds for wedding gifts after the couple split and widow inheritance. The lawmakers are yet to agree on whether marriage gifts should not be an essential requirement for marriage.
But the view from the members who talked to this newspaper is that dowry and bride price are cultural matters which cannot be addressed by laws.
“The issue of dowry and bride price has cultural value,” Mr Reagan Okumu (FDC, Aswa) said. “Those who want to abolish marriage gifts should know that there is no nation without a family and Ugandans respect their cultures.”
The property agreement
Section 117 (1) of the Marriage and Divorce Bill introduces property agreement between two persons in contemplation of a marriage or cohabitation with each other may make an agreement with respect to the ownership of— (a) separate property of each spouse or cohabitee; (b) property acquired during the marriage or cohabitation; or (c) distribution of property acquired during the marriage or cohabitation.
But legal brains in the House are expected to argue that this particular section and others on cohabitation should be amended to take out cohabitation as form of marriage since it is not recognised in the 1995 Constitution.
“In this Bill, we are trying to protect the women of this country from exploitation because historically, the women have endured injustices. Cohabitation cannot be stopped, it’s a reality we can only regulate it and this is what we are proposing to do in this Bill,” said Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire.
According to the Bill, an agreement under section 117 may define the share of the property to which each spouse is entitled on separation, dissolution of marriage. Under this arrangement, spouses shall have equal access to matrimonial property.
Section 126 says liability incurred by a spouse before marriage relating to property shall, after the marriage, remain the liability of the spouse who incurred it, except if the property becomes matrimonial. Under section 115, the liability may be shared by the spouses, unless otherwise.
The church is strongly opposed to some of the contentious clauses in the Bill, particularly on divorce and cohabitation, but Uganda Women Parliament Association on Thursday said the divorce clause was extracted from the Divorce Act and is as such not a new position to the Church.
Most of the MPs who talked to this newspaper have vowed to reject cohabitation, saying it is not a recognised form of marriage, and that legalising it would negatively impact on the family unit.
The Bill is a break-away from the original Domestic Relations Bill which was rejected by the Muslim community, forcing Cabinet to separate the law for Muslims and Christians. A Bill that seeks to establish the Muslim Personal Law is expected in a month’s time.