Bill seeks to legitimise ‘come we stay’ unions

What you need to know:

  • The Marriage Bill brings together the Christian, Islamic and Hindu marriage laws as well as marriages consummated under Civil and African Customary law

If you have been in a come-we-stay relationship for at least six months, then consider yourself and your partner legally married if a proposed law is passed.

This follows the Cabinet’s decision on Thursday to pass the Marriage Bill 2012.

Under the proposed law, chiefs will have the power to consider “come-we-stay” arrangements as marriages and will be required to register them as such.

The same applies to customary marriages. The enactment of the proposed law is expected to come as a shock to many young people who are in such unions.

The Marriage Bill brings together the Christian, Islamic and Hindu marriage laws as well as marriages consummated under Civil and African Customary law, a despatch from the Presidential Press Service said.

Although the Bill recognises polygamy, it proposes the outlawing of some traditional forms of marriage and the scrapping of bride price.

Same sex marriages

However, those who wish to pay any form of dowry or bride price may go ahead, but no one will be forced to do so.

To avoid controversy over same-sex marriages, the Bill defines marriage in Section 3 (1) as a “voluntary union of a man and a woman intended to last for their lifetime.”

Widows will not be subjected to cultural wife inheritance. “No law or custom shall operate so as to restrict the freedom of a widow to reside wherever she pleases or to marry a man of her choice," says the proposed legislation.

The Bill has also outlawed marriages between blood relatives, adopted children and their guardians, and with a former spouse of one’s grandparent, parent, child or grandchild.

The courts will nullify underage and prohibited marriages, including those obtained without consent.

Under the proposed law, a widow has the right to marry a person of her choice — a clear attempt to eradicate the culture of forced wife inheritance practised among some Kenyan communities.

It also blocks the marriage of a person to his stepmother, a practice which still prevails in some parts of the country.

The Bill seeks to outlaw child marriages by making 18 the minimum age for marriage. Couples planning to marry will give notice of their intention to the Registrar of Marriages between three weeks and three months of the intended marriage.

Marriages contracted under either customary or Islamic law are deemed as polygamous or potentially polygamous.

In all other cases, marriages are presumed to be monogamous, meaning that those cohabiting have to agree to have monogamous unions.

The Bill deems a marriage null and void if one of the parties is found to have been insane, drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time of consenting to the marriage.

The marriage will be voided if it was conducted in the absence of the bride or the bridegroom or where either party was not capable of consummating it and has remained in that state ever since.

The Cabinet had in 2009 shelved debate on the Bill to allow more consultation before it is tabled in Parliament.

According to the PPS statement, the Cabinet, which was chaired by President Kibaki, passed the Matrimonial Property Bill, which provides for the rights and responsibilities of spouses in relation to matrimonial property.

Also passed was the proposed law on protection against domestic violence, which seeks redress for victims of the vice.

The Office of the Attorney-General Bill 2012 and the Office of the Director of Public prosecutions Bill, 2012 and the Nairobi Centre for International Arbitration Bill, 2012 were also passed.

GMO food imports

The Cabinet resolved to ban GMO food imports, PPS said. “Given the lack of sufficient information on the public health impact of such foods, the Cabinet directed the minister for Public Health to ban the importation of GMO foods.

“The ban will remain in effect until there is sufficient information, data and knowledge demonstrating that GMO foods are not a danger to public health.”