Zvamaida Murwira, Harare Bureau
Cabinet has withdrawn a clause in the Marriages Amendment Bill that provided for “civil partnership” saying such a union was alien and not consistent with the country’s cultural and Christian values.
The proposed new marriage law has courted controversy, with various interpretations of it and questions as to whether it would not undermine the family unit and traditional marriage institution.
It was also construed that the new law would empower “small houses”, a colloquial term for extra-marital or unrecognised unions.
The matter came into sharp focus yesterday in Cabinet.
“Cabinet members sought clarification from the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the import of Section 40 of the Marriages Amendment Bill currently before Parliament,” Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said while addressing journalists on the 27th Cabinet Decision Matrix.
“Following the explanation by the Minister, Cabinet observed that the concept of a ‘civil union’ or ‘partnership’ is foreign and not consistent with Zimbabwe’s cultural norms as well as its Christian values. Accordingly, Cabinet directed that Section 40, which bears reference to ‘Civil Partnerships’ be removed forthwith from the proposed Marriages Amendment Bill,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
Section 40 of Marriages Amendment Bill provided as follows: “A relationship between a man and a woman who—(a) are both over the age of eighteen years; and (b) have lived together without legally being married to each other; and (c) are not within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity as provided in section 7; and (d) having regard to all the circumstances of their relationship, have a relationship as a couple living together on a genuine domestic basis;
shall be regarded as being in a civil partnership for the purposes of determining the rights and obligations of the parties on dissolution of the relationship and, for this purpose, sections 7 to 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act [Chapter 5:13] shall mutatis mutandis apply on the dissolution of any such relationship.”
The withdrawal of the clause means Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi who is expected to steer the Bill in Parliament will now propose the deletion of the contentious provision at Committee stage.
Commenting on the implications of the clause, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Dr Sibusiso Moyo said Cabinet resolved that it should not be seen as if it was condoning illegal activities.
“People who decide to have a commercial contractual arrangement which will be determined other than the laws of contract will be judged along those lines. I do not think it should be brought into the Marriages Act.
“Secondly, Cabinet in its wisdom resolved that we must remain principled and in line so that we will not necessarily encourage illegal activities to take place by appearing as if we are legislating them,” said Minister Moyo.
He said the removal of the clause would not affect rural communities where couples had lived together as husband and wife for several years without having their marriages registered.
Attorney General Advocate Prince Machaya said when two people decide to live together outside the law and expectation of society they should not expect protection from authorities because they did not accrue additional rights such as legitimately married persons.
He said it was only people who were legally married whose status at law should change and could enforce against each other upon dissolution of such union.
“There is nothing that the authorities or the State can do to protect them from what I can term the deliberateness of their own actions, they are aware of what they are doing and what those type of relationships are viewed by society, so people should not cry foul that they are not being protected,” said Adv Machaya.
He said the clause was being misunderstood and misinterpreted to create the impression that the law was recognising civil unions.
“It is not a recognised marriage, it was merely out of consideration of fairness that when these people move apart the one who is more economically empowered should not use that power to the detriment of another part, that was the sole purpose of referring to it as a civil partnership,” said Adv Machaya.