Some of the weddings celebrated during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown could be illegal, according to an observation by Vincent Katutsi, the Director for Civil Registration at Uganda Registration Services Bureau-URSB.
The illegality could arise out of the failure by couples to notify the registrar of their intention to marry in line with section six of the Marriage Act, and the validity of banns published by churches under a closed setting. Churches have been closed since March 18, as one of the measures to control public gatherings and contain the spread of coronavirus disease COVID-19.
But during the same period, churches have gone ahead of wed couples, in what has been popularly known as scientific weddings, attended by just a few people, usually close relatives to the bride and the groom.
The law requires persons with a desire to marry, to sign and give notice to the registrar of the district in which the marriage is intended to take place. Upon receipt of a marriage notice, the registrar enters the record into the Marriage Notice Book and publishes the notice by affixing a copy on the notice board where it remains for at least 21 days. This also implies that the marriage takes place within three months after the date of the notice.
“If the marriage shall not take place within three months after the date of the notice…all proceedings consequent on it shall be void and fresh notice must be given before the parties can lawfully marry,” according to the law.
Katutsi shares that the law requires couples to notify third parties who might have an interest in the matter. In churches, and other places licensed to carry out weddings, the ministers are also requested to run marriage banns for the same period.
He expresses worry that several couples could have fallen short of the expectations as a result of restrictions imposed on movement and operations of key offices, during the lockdown. According to Katutsi, the publication of banns of Marriage during the lockdown becomes questionable when the churches are closed.
Katutsi notes that the only circumstance under which the marriage banns or marriage notices can be waived is through formally writing to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
George William Kyeyune, the Vicar of Namirembe Cathedral, where a number of the scientific weddings have been held in recent weeks, says they have been reading marriage banns on televisions since even the congregation had moved to the same medium upon the ban on public gatherings.
Meanwhile, Katutsi adds that there are other possibilities that many couples who opted for the scientific wedding could have gone to unlicensed ministers or conducted the wedding in an ungazetted place which as well makes their marriage null and void.
Marriage is a state function and it is guided by laws with religious, cultural institutions, and the Chief Administrative Officer conducts it as a delegated function. Even before the lockdown, many Ugandan’s were ignorantly living in illegal marriages having violated several requirements of the Marriage Act.