Changes to the Marriage Act you need to know

By Demion McTair. Updated 6:35 p.m., Tuesday, August 18, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).

Kingstown, St. Vincent (ONE NEWS SVG) – The Marriage Act was amended in Parliament on Friday, August 14, 2020, extending the categories of persons who can solemnize marriages throughout the country, among other changes.

To solemnize a marriage simply means to perform a marriage ceremony.

In the brief debate in Parliament on Friday, August 14, 2020, on the bill for an act to amend the Marriage Act, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves outlined the key changes.

The main purpose of the changes to the act is to provide for additional persons who can solemnize marriages. Under a new section nine (9) of the Marriage Act, the Governor-General will be empowered to appoint a public officer as a marriage officer.

A public officer can be appointed as a marriage officer, generally, for a specified area or a specified district or period. Additionally, the appointment of a marriage officer can only be revoked for misconduct or good cause.

Under a new section, section 12, a Justice of the Peace would be an ex officio marriage officer. Currently, only registrars, mostly magistrates, are ex officio marriage officers.

The new section 12 (a) will limit the powers of public officers appointed as marriage officers and the ex officio marriage officers. These marriage officers would only be allowed to solemnize marriages in their offices, as is currently the case with the registrar who is ex officio a marriage officer unless the Governor-General permits otherwise in writing.

Further, these marriage officers will have to solemnize marriages in accordance with sections 26 and 29 of the act, as is currently the law.

The new categories of marriage officers cannot grant authority for the solemnization of marriages. The authority for the solemnization of marriages is governed by section 18 of the act.

The new categories of marriage officers will be registrars of marriages under section 38 of the act, for the purpose of registering marriages, solemnized or witnessed by them under the act.

An amendment to section 29 of the Marriage Act will include references to public officers appointed as marriage officers, Justice of the Peace, and Registrars. The effect of the amendment is that after having obtained the certificate of license, which is the authority for a marriage, persons can have their marriages solemnized by a pubic officer appointed as a marriage officer, a justice of the peace, or a registrar.

An amendment to section 30 of the Act would allow for the parties of a marriage, after having their marriages solemnized by a public officer, a justice of the peace or a registrar, to then have a religious ceremony of marriage performed between them and a minister of religion, if they so wish. According to section 30, the religious service does not supersede or invalidate the marriage which has been conducted under the law.

The Prime Minister says the hotels have been asking for this, especially in the Grenadines and so too, the ministry of tourism.

We are not in any way at all undermining the well-established sacrament of holy matrimony for those who would wish to go and so have them solemnized in churches, Dr. Gonsalves said

He says that before the amendment to the Marriage Act, persons still had the choice to go to the registrar and get married, as is still the case.

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