Marriages conducted in Church of Resurrection Bugolobi are legal

Thursday September 5 2019


By Ramathan Shafi

The story in the Daily Monitor of August 23 titled, “1,000 weddings at city church declared illegal”, left several people whose marriages were conducted at Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi between 2006 and 2016 with huge disappointment.
This resulted from comments that were made by several people, including some lawyers, stating that the marriages are null and void and that people who conducted their marriages in that church should go and have another marriage.
One of the comments that struck me most is one made by the spokeperson of the Uganda Registration Service Beaural (URSB), Provia Nangobi, who said: “Before a church can conduct a wedding, it should have a licence issued by the Minister of Justice. Any wedding conducted when it’s not registered will be rejected. You can call it illegal [marriage].”
The arguments that those marriages conducted in unlicensed church are illegal is based on the assumption that every marriage in a church should be registered with the Office of the URSB, otherwise it should be illegal.
I find this reasoning and interpretation abhorrent to the laws of this land. It is important that I reproduce Section 34 of the Marriage Act here, which many people are giving wrong interpretation to. I find some interpretations not in tandem with the interest of the drafters and legislators who passed this law.
Section 34(2)(1) of the Marriage Act provides that a marriage shall be null and void if both parties knowingly and wilfully acquiesce in its celebration in any place other than the Office of the Registrar of Marriages or a licensed place of worship, except where authorised by the minister’s licence.
With all due respect and with all candid interpretation the above section deserves, the section carries a connotation of knowledge of both intending couples. This interpretation means a marriage shall be null and void if both parties allow their marriage to be conducted in a church clearly known by them not to have been licensed.
The substantive question to be asked now is, did the people whose marriages are being described as illegal for having been conducted in the subject church know that the church had no licence to conduct marriages?
The answer to this question can be underlined by a sense of humour. It is really difficult for an ordinary citizen to estimate that such an Anglican church lacks a licence to conduct marriages. And with the respect accorded to Anglican churches in Uganda, it may be difficult for one to believe that such a church lacks accreditation of conducting marriages.
And if, we are to go by the interpretation that those marriages are invalid, it will mean several people will suffer injustice of being divorced by their partners who have stayed with them for a long time and now the previous love has gone to the drain due to one reason or another, many of those couples are just being kept up together probably because they said a vow to stay together.
Therefore, if this matter of illegal marriages comes up, some couples may see it as an opportunity and may end up divorcing their once loved partners.
Suffice to ask, why should someone suffer the negative consequence not caused by his hands or intention? Any interpretation that leads to invalidity of the marriages conducted at the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi between 2006 and 2016 shall be a parody of justice.
Consequently, the marriages of people conducted at the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi between 2006 and 2016 are valid and legal basing on Section of 34(2) of the Marriage Act.
In any case, whoever wants to challenge the validity of those marriages, he/she will have to produce evidence that those couples knew that the church was not accredited or had no license before they could conduct marriage.
Mr Shafi is a lawyer working with KMA Advocates.