Parliament: Bill passed to allow marriage solemnisations to go virtual

The Registries of Civil and Muslim Marriages building. Due to circuit breaker measures, 2,723 couples had to postpone having their marriages solemnised. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Couples whose plans to tie the knot were postponed by the coronavirus will be able to say their wedding vows remotely via live video links, after Parliament passed a Bill on Tuesday (May 5).

Unless they belong to the same household, however, the bride, groom and other parties involved in the ceremony should not gather for the solemnisation, in line with safe distancing measures.

Presenting the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures for Solemnization and Registration of Marriages) Bill for debate, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said 2,723 couples were scheduled to have their marriages solemnised between April 7 and June 1, but had to postpone their plans due to circuit breaker measures.

"While some couples may prefer to wait until it's safer to celebrate their big day in person with family and friends, others may not wish to wait any longer, or may face extenuating circumstances that make postponement challenging. We want to support them," he said.

The new law will allow couples to undergo solemnisations online, conducted in the virtual presence of their witnesses, and in the case of Muslim marriages, also the wali, or the bride's lawful guardian.

Even though all of the parties may not be in the same physical location, they must all be physically in Singapore.

Couples can be virtually solemnised after completing the verification of documents procedure online and making statutory declarations virtually as well.

Such online proceedings will, at the start, be allowed for couples where at least one party is a Singapore citizen or permanent resident, and who can present Singapore-issued documents.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development said foreign-issued documents require "a more complex level of checks and verification".

The option for virtual solemnisations, which will likely begin in the later half of this month, will last "until the Covid-19 situation improves", said Mr Lee, who added that it may be available even beyond this period.

For Muslim marriages, Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told the House the Office of the Mufti has issued religious guidance, or an irsyad, stating that virtual solemnisations will not affect the validity of a marriage from a religious perspective.

The new law will also allow couples in civil marriages to have 12 months to get married after filing a notice of marriage, up from the current three months.

This will allow couples to push back their wedding dates amid the uncertain times, and avoid the need to repeatedly file a notice of marriage and wait for the mandatory 21 day-period for each notice to be over before they can get married.

Marriage notices that were filed up to three months before the commencement of the Act, and which have not been cancelled or expired, will automatically have their validity extended to 12 months.

Responding to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on whether the Bill will allow couples to cancel a notice of marriage, which is currently not allowed, Mr Lee said couples can apply to do so for "valid reasons". The Registrar "will not allow frivolous applications", he added.

Said Mr Lee: "It is important during these challenging times that we ensure that Singaporeans can continue with their lives, especially for key life events like marriage. This Bill ensures that couples can continue to get married and embark on a new stage in life together, by tapping on technology and keeping to the necessary precautions."

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