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Ugandan Civil Marriage Registration Requirements

by Yosef Yacob, JD, LLM, PHD

Last week, the Ugandan government announced that weddings conducted by thousands of churches not licensed with the state were "null and void". Consequently, Ugandan Evangelical pastors have called on thousands of couples they have married to take their vows again.[1]

For US immigration purposes the longstanding rule is that "the validity of a marriage is determined according to the law of the place of celebration." Laughram v Laughram, 292 U.S. 216 (1934); Matter of Levine, 13 I & N Dec. 244 (B.I.A. 1969); Matter of P-, 4 I & N Dec. 610 (A.G. 1952). As such, the issue of the validity of a Ugandan marriage is governed by the laws Uganda.

This awkward event presents an opportunity to revisit the applicable Ugandan civil and Christian marriage registrations requirements.

A legally recognized marriage must be performed in accordance with the laws of Uganda. Article 31 of The Constitution of Uganda provides for the right of men and women of 18 years and above to marry and found a family and that the marriage be entered into with their free consent. Apart from these constitutional provisions, there are specific laws that govern the institution of marriage.

The Marriage and Divorce Act which governs civil and Christian marriages, The Customary Marriage (Registration) Act which governs customary marriages, The Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedan Act which governs marriages between Muslims, The Marriage of Africans Act which governs marriages between Africans and The Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act which governs marriages between the Hindus.

Civil and Christian marriages may only be celebrated in a licensed place of worship by a recognized Minister of the church, denomination or body to which the place of worship belongs or by a registrar of marriages.[2]

However, it should be noted that marriage certificates even issued by a licensed church, unless duly registered with the registrar of marriages are not recognized under Ugandan law.

Immediately after the celebration of a marriage by a minister, the officiating minister is required by law to complete, in duplicate, a marriage certificate with the particulars required and enter in the church records, the number of the certificate, the date of the marriage, names of the parties and the names of the witnesses.

The certificate is then signed by the officiating minister, by the parties and by two or more witnesses to the marriage and one certificate is delivered to the parties, and within seven days the other is filed with the registrar of marriages for the district in which the marriage takes place.

Alternatively, the parties may contract a marriage before a registrar, in the presence of two witnesses the registrar's office. The registrar then completes and the parties and witnesses then sign the certificate of the marriage in duplicate, and the registrar as in the case of a marriage by a minister, delivers one certificate to the parties and files the other in his or her office.

The registrar of marriages in each district is required to register all marriages in a book to be kept for that purpose, and called "The Marriage Register Book".

Within ten days after the last day of each month, every district registrar is required to send to the Registrar General a certified copy of all entries made during the preceding month in the Marriage Register Book and the Registrar General files the copy in his or her office.

A marriage is null and void if both parties knowingly and willfully acquiesce in its celebration in any place other than the office of a registrar of marriages or a licensed place of worship or by a person not recognized as a minister of some religious denomination or body, or a registrar of marriages.

However, the license and registration requirements do not apply to the majority of marriages between Ugandans that are performed according to customary tribal law and for which no records exist. For such marriages, certificates are obtainable from the village chief.

The law provides "nothing in this Act shall affect the validity of any marriage contracted under or in accordance with any customary law, or in any manner applied to marriages so contracted." The law also allows "persons already married or professing to be married to each other by customary law desire to convert that marriage into a marriage by which they are legally bound to each other as man and wife so long as both shall live by a ceremony before a registrar, such provisions of this Act as apply to a marriage before a registrar "

Implicitly, if not expressly, customary marriages in Uganda though valid are not legally binding until registered. The following attestation required by law, for the conversion of the customary marriage re-enforces the opinion.

"Whereas you (name), and you (name), profess that you have been heretofore married to each other by customary law and whereas that marriage does not bind you by law to each other as man and wife so long as both of you shall live and whereas you desire to bind yourselves legally each to the other as man and wife so long as both of you shall live: Know you that by the public taking of each other as man and wife so long as both of you shall live, in my presence and in the presence of the persons now here, and by the subsequent attestation of that taking by signing your names to that effect, you become legally bound to each other as man and wife so long as both of you shall live although no other rite of a civil or religious nature shall now take place, and that hereafter your marriage can not be dissolved during your lifetime, except by a valid judgment of divorce; and if either of you before the death of the other shall legally contract another marriage while your marriage to each other remains un-dissolved, you will be thereby guilty of bigamy, and liable to punishment for that offence."


1Illegal Ugandan Couples Asked to Remarry: BBC NEWS Africa, June 29, 2011

2Marriage Act 1904 (Ch 251): see here

About The Author

Yosef Yacob has a BA in Economics (Honors) Linfield College, JD Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College, LLM (International Civil Litigation), University of San Diego, PhD in Law (International Law) Osgoode Hall School of Law, York University.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.