By Carol Kasujja
Statistics from the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) reveal that the number of people choosing civil marriage over religious marriage has increased in the last two years.
In an interview with New Vision, Eva Kentaro Mugerwa, the director of civil registration reveals that the bureaucratic fashion of religious marriage that involves paying ridiculous church fees, proof of baptism cards, compulsory HIV tests, privacy and unlawful consent requirements is becoming unpopular.
The lengthy process is forcing people to seek other forms of marriage, particularly civil marriage.
The civil registration is joining more couples at its offices in the last two years than ever before. “The number of weddings we conduct every Thursday at our offices has increased to 40%,” says Mugerwa.
About two weeks ago, more than 30 couples had issued notice of marriage at the Registrar’s Office.
And Mugerwa acknowledges that the civil marriage process is a lot quicker than the religious one.
“It is a good thing because the moment you sign the certificates, it becomes effective immediately unless in church settings where pastors and reverends take weeks and months to submit the certificate to us.”
She adds: “The marriage ceremony held in church is no doubt the most prestigious in the eyes of Ugandans, but it falls under the influence of civil marriage.
“Churches conduct marriage on behalf of the State. In fact, the certificate couples receive straight from the registrar is stronger because at the end of the day, all churches must send their certificates to the registrar for approval,” she explains.
Why the rise?
The quicker channel in getting united for civil marriages also comes with a cost advantage.
Provia Nangobi, the senior Public Relations Officer (PRO) at URSB explains that a civil marriage is cheaper compared to a church wedding where you have to pay the choir, order of service booklet, fines for not keeping time, pay offertory, etc.
With a civil wedding, you only have to pay sh85, 000 to get married.
In a scenario where one party is not willing to convert into the other’s religion, say from Muslim to a Catholic or a non-believer, a civil union comes in handy.
“Religion is by no means a reason to stop a marriage under the Marriage Act. Some people can pretend to have converted so that they can wed, and thereafter revert to their old beliefs. We marry couples of different denominations without requesting for permission from a bishop,” says Kentaro.
People who have been married before and divorced and those who have lost loved ones are more comfortable in civil marriages because most churches are not willing to wed divorcees.
Civil marriage is more common with people across the border and those coming from the diaspora.
Robert Magezi, 31, and Jeannene Busko, 50, from the U.S. were wedded at the registrar’s office on February 15 this year when they found that civil marriage is “stronger” than the church marriage.
“If you want to divorce in a church marriage, it is very possible, depending on the [religious] leader’s mood. But with civil, the State is involved and the procedures of getting a divorce are very stressing,” said Magezi.
Presently, the Marriage and Divorce Bill is under debate in the Ugandan Parliament. Already, it has divided the nation and has ignited more debate over whether it should be passed or not.