Civil Wedding in Uganda

Making wedding plans across borders is no mean feat and Dennis and Chelsea Kirenzi will be the first to admit as much. After five years in Uganda, 28 year old Chelsea returned to Canada leaving behind then Ugandan boyfriend Dennis.

During the year apart they decided to get to get married. While she focused on invitations, fitting rings, and plane tickets for her immediate family he was charged with wedding meetings, venue for the reception, and arranging for a civil wedding.

“I’m not religious or even baptised, so can’t get married in a church and didn’t want to anyway.” Chelsea explained.

Ibra and Alice Kalumba also opted for a civil union out of respect for their having different religions.  On 12th January 2011 with a small group of 12, they held the 20 minute ceremony at the registrar’s office in Kampala, before holding an intimate dinner for friends and family.

In order to have a civil ceremony in Kampala both of these couples were required to appear in person before the Registrar of Marriages for an interview. There they were required to prove that they were above 18 years old and not legally married to other people.  Other requirements included having two witnesses, proof of nationality, LC1 letters to prove residency in Kampala district for at least 15 days, passport size photographs and marriage affidavits drafted by independent lawyers.

In case where foreigners intend to marry – as was Chelsea’s case – a letter from the specific country’s Civil Registration or Vital Statistics Office was also required to authenticate her marriage status. If the person is between 18 and 21 a birth certificate, consent letter from parents or legal guardians, and a photocopy of identification of consenting party is also required.

While Dennis expected the event to be intense Chelsea had imagined it wrapped in bureaucracy. They both were glad that it turned out to be a quick ceremony, simple to arrange, and still romantic.

While Dennis was relieved to do away with the judgment he feels is associated with church weddings Chelsea fondly recalls getting stuck in traffic while listening to cheesy love songs on Sanyu FM’s ‘Love at 11’ with her husband and their close friends and witnesses.

Alice also remembers the romantic aspect and only regrets missing out on the church-mandated counselling required for church weddings.  “We first made a promise to each other while holding our respective religious books, said our vows while exchanging rings, signed the promise and marriage certificate, and kissed.” She smiles remembering the event.  “My godfather made sure we got a private room for the ceremony as opposed to the general room where there are usually about five couples waiting in line.”

Her husband, Ibra, doesn’t consider their marriage less credible because it wasn’t held in a church or mosque. His only regret is the family members, who were opposed to the less conventional ceremony, who chose not to attend.

Couples who intend to marry must fill in a notice of marriage at the Uganda Registration Service Bureau, which is pinned on a notice board for 21 days, so anyone with ground reason can contest it.

Civil unions normally cost 85,000 UGX but a special license can be issued for 135,000 UGX if the couple wish the registrar to come to a different pre-gazetted venue, or want to get married prior to the 21 day period.

Civil marriages can take place on any day after the 21 day period has passed (but prior to 90 days from that period). The Ugandan Registration Service Bureau is open Monday to Friday between 10.00am too 4.00pm in Georgian House, Central Kampala.

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