Officials from the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB), the government agency responsible for registering all marriages in the country, have decried the slow progress in debating and passing the Marriage and Divorce Bill, 2017, saying it is an impediment in their attempts to introduce changes to the 1904 Marriage Act, which they say is now obsolete.
Among the proposed issues to be amended are the need to retrospectively legalise marriages that took place in churches that were not licensed and gazetted at the time the couples wedded.
Also to be amended is the electronic registration, marrying off minors as enshrined in the Mohammedan laws, and registration of divorce, among others.
Daily Monitor last Friday broke the story of how close to a thousand couples are in panic mode after it emerged that many of them wedded at Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi between 2006 and 2016 when the religious institution had not been officially gazetted to administer the holy marriages.
As of now, 1,655 places of worship have been licensed and gazetted to conduct weddings, 688 are registered but not yet gazetted while a further 652 are under general notice, meaning they have not yet also qualified to conduct weddings.
Mr Charles Nsimbi, the manager of civil registration at URSB, yesterday said there is an urgent need to amend 1904 Marriage Act because of the emerging issues.
He said they have already made their proposals to the first Parliamentary Counsel.
“We have been working with the first Parliamentary Counsel of Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to have them amended. We know it is a very big problem so we are working to resolve because it requires an amendment in the law to retrospectively allow those churches to retrospectively legalise those marriages,” he said.
He said a number of new clauses need to be introduced in the amendments to address challenges that have come over the time.
“There are several issues which needs to be amended. It doesn’t cater for electronic. It doesn’t cater for divorce, it means that if someone is married and divorced we cannot know. The law did not cater for marriage of the minors, especially the Mohammedan law which allows minors to stay in marriage at the age of 14 years and yet the Constitution has outlawed that,” he added.
Mr Nsimbi, however, said they are being held back by the Marriage and Divorce Bill to be passed.
“You cannot introduce a new law when the other one (Marriage and Divorce Bill) is still in the Parliament. This law is neither moving forward nor backwards, so it is difficult for us,” he said.
“The Solicitor General should be able to explain how we can proceed with this, but that’s where we are right now,” he added.
Mr Francis Atoke, the Solicitor General, however, said he would not comment on the issue of the marriages that were conducted in ungazetted churches because he is not abreast with the developments.
“I would be lying if I said I would comment on this because I have heard that information from other people and I have not read the article, so let the people of Uganda registration service bureau explain,” he said.
The existing law
The 1904 Marriage Act states that marriages may be celebrated in any licensed place of worship by any recognised minister of the church, denomination or body to which the place of worship belongs, and according to the rites or usages of marriages observed in that church, denomination or body.
Section 22 states that a minister shall not celebrate any marriage except in a building which has been duly licensed by the minister, or in such place as the minister’s licence may direct.