Uganda: 1,000 Weddings At City Church Declared Illegal

Nearly 1,000 couples whose marriages were blessed at an Anglican church in Kampala are in panic after information surfaced yesterday that their matrimonies were not duly registered as required by law.

Clergymen familiar with the teething problem admitted that weddings were conducted at the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi between 2006 and 2016 when the religious institution had not been officially gazetted to administer the holy marriages.

As a result, none of the purported nuptials has been registered with the Office of the Registrar General at Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), meaning they have no legal effect.

"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]," Ms Provia Nangobi, the URSB spokesperson, said.

Under Section 5 of Uganda's Marriage Act 1904, "the minister (of Justice) may license any place of public worship to be a place for the celebration of marriages, and may at any time cancel such licence, and in either case he or she shall give notice thereof in the Gazette".

A "marriage shall be null and void" if conducted in a place other than the office of a registrar of marriages or a licensed place of worship, according to Section 34 (2) of the Act, except if authorised by a Justice minister's licence.

These provisions, and the church's admission that it erred in law for a decade, yesterday stirred commotion among couples who took their marriage vows there and tossed their fate to a legal conundrum.

The church, located in the city's upscale eastern outskirts, is within the administrative jurisdiction of Church of Uganda's Kampala diocese headquartered at All Saints Cathedral Nakasero.

One lawyer, who asked not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter, proposed that each of the affected couples could conduct fresh wedding at the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi, now that it is licenced, or marry again at another gazetted place.

The catch-22 is that relations between some of the couples have soured since their matrimony, raising the possibility that a spouse would be reluctant to go back on the pulpit to re-wed. There is also a risk, one lawyer said, that the church is now exposed to potential litigation by the aggrieved couples.

Worship places and other licensed places charge Shs35,000 as fees to register their marriages with the State. Our investigations show that the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi collected in excess of Shs32m from the 920 couples, but the cash was instead allegedly injected into the institution's physical infrastructure development projects.

"Yes, we erred. We need to agree the best way forward. Our lawyers have already been informed," the Kampala Diocesan Secretary, the Rev Can John Awodi, said in reference to their failure to register the marriages.

The Rev Can Awodi served as vicar at the Church of Resurrection Bugolobi before his elevation to the post of diocesan secretary.

He added: "Before God, the marriages we conducted are legal, but we are trying hard to see that they are regularised with the State."

Under Uganda's laws, religious leaders and authorised persons preside over marriages for and on behalf of the State and, as such, the sacrament is legal only after formal registration.

According to the Rev Can Awodi, they are attempting to persuade URSB to license the marriages under All Saints Cathedral Nakasero, the diocesan headquarters.

Dilemma

The bureau, however, slammed that door in front of the clergy, with Ms Nangobi saying in response to inquiries by this newspaper, that "we cannot recognise marriages retrospectively." "I don't know what the church will do," she said.

The Bugolobi church registered some of its previous weddings under the name of St Andrews Church Bukoto, situated in another Kampala suburb.

Up to 920 marriages are affected as a result of the mistake by the Church of the Resurrection Bugolobi, according to our tally of marriages conducted over 10 years from 2006 as detailed in official records.

Church officials could not explain how the blunder happened.

The Rev Can Awodi implored the affected Christians to be patient as the church sorts out the millstone.

URSB warned yesterday that churches not gazetted to conduct weddings must not bless matrimony.

An official at the Church of Resurrection Bugolobi, who is familiar with the issues, told this newspaper that "there was ignorance of the law by those who were in-charge at the time" and they are now exploring all ways to correct the anomaly.

Licensing church to wed

Once a church files its application, Ms Nangobi said it takes URSB about three days to verify before a licence is issued. But first, the applicant must have a permanent structure called a church, resident priests or pastors and must show evidence to prove that the premises they have presented belongs to them.

Once these are received, URSB sends their officials for on-spot inspection and a report is submitted to the Minister of Justice. Spokesperson Nangobi explained that though they don't limit churches when they should file their marriage returns, it is prudent that they do it at least every month to avoid a backlog but also keep their clients updated with the state to avoid any inconveniences.

She advised prospective couples to first verify the legal status of the place where they intend to solemnise their marriage before undertaking the nuptials.

pahimbisibwe@ug.nationmedia.com

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