Parliament has commenced consideration of Uganda’s Marriage and Divorce Bill that seeks among others to reform and consolidate the law relating to marriage, separation and divorce. Debate on the bill has commenced with some legislators rallying for cohabitation to be recognized as a form of marriage.
The bill tabled in December 2009 provides for the types of recognized marriages in Uganda, marital rights and duties, recognition of cohabitation in relation to property rights, sets grounds for breakdown of marriage, and provides for rights of parties on dissolution of marriage.
It deals with widow inheritance and separation, but also outlaws demands for return of marriage gifts given as bride price.
There was excitement from sections of the House as the bill that has been under consideration over the last 47 years was tabled for consideration by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon. Freddie Ruhindi.
The bill is a product of a comprehensive study by the Uganda Law Reform Commission and similar studies including the Commission of Inquiry into the Marriage, Divorce and Status of Women (Kalema Report) of 1965.
Debating a report by tabled by MP Sarah Mpabwa on behalf of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament, several legislators have warned that matters of property had taken center stage ahead of love in the institution of marriage.
Terego County MP Kassiano Wadri reminded legislators of the need to uphold societal and religious values that form the basis of the institution of marriage.
Some legislators are however concerned that not much consideration has been given by the bill to cohabitation as a form of marriage. A cross section of MPs called cohabitation an immoral practice which is contrary to customary law and a challenge to the marriage institution.
The Marriage and Divorce Bill provides for the rights of cohabitees in sharing property after the termination of cohabitation, although it is not considered a form of marriage recognized in Uganda.
MP Odonga Otto supported calls to have cohabiting partners benefit in case of dissolution where they cite irreconcilable differences.
“I think it is not fair for a man to stay with a woman for ten years and walk away from the marriage with nothing. He says marriage should not be mechanical,” he told the house.
The bill once passed by Parliament will empower the Minister for Justice to divide the country into marriage districts, licence places of public worship to solemnize marriages. It also outlaws same sex marriage.
Meanwhile Parliament Imam Hon. Latif Ssebaggala has appealed to government to fastrack tabling of a law that will regulate marriage under the Islamic faith. The Marriage and Divorce Bill does not cover marriages under the Islamic faith.
The Attorney General and Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Hon. Freddie Ruhindi says the Law Reform Commission is finalizing consultations with members of the Muslim community who were opposed to sections of the bill.