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Marriage Amendment Act 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Hon. R. Patricia Gordon-Pamplin Ministerial Statement: 

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to introduce for the Second Reading the Bill entitled: “Marriage Amendment Act 2016”. The Bill seeks to support the Government’s commitment to rebuilding Bermuda’s tourism industry and to generating new revenue by expanding the locations at which marriage ceremonies performed by the Registrar General may be conducted.

Mr. Speaker, section 24(1) of the Marriage Act 1944 (“the Act”) provides that persons who obtain a certificate for marriage from the Registrar General, or a special licence from the Minister, may contract marriage at the office of the Registrar. Marriages before the Registrar are considered civil marriage ceremonies which have become increasingly popular in recent years, particular among persons visiting Bermuda for the purpose of getting married.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members are advised that for the year 2015, one hundred and eighteen (118) marriages representing twenty three point two percent (23.2%) of the marriages conducted in Bermuda were civil ceremonies performed at the Registrar’s office. Many couples prefer to have civil ceremonies rather than religious ceremonies for various reasons, and therefore Bermuda might be viewed as a more attractive wedding destination for tourists if there were more options for venues at which civil ceremonies could be performed.

Mr. Speaker, the Bill amends section 24 of the Act by deleting the words “at the office of the Registrar” in subsection (1) and by inserting a dash and the following after subsection (1)(a) -

  1. at the office of the Registrar; or
  2. at an alternative approved location

Also, new subsections (3) and (4) are inserted to grant the Minister responsible for the Registry General the power to make regulations, subject to the negative resolution procedure, to prescribe the approved alternative locations. The Minister is also empowered to approve an additional location on application by the parties.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members should note that there is a housekeeping amendment as the Bill repeals section 21 of the Marriage Act 1944 (Commonwealth citizens intending marriage; one in Bermuda and the other in the United Kingdom), and is no longer of any utility.  There has been no practical application of this section and there is no record of anyone ever applying for a certificate of marriage to be recognized in such manner.

Mr. Speaker, the amendments enable marriages to be contracted before the Registrar at approved alternative locations, since the office of the Registrar General is currently the only permitted venue for such marriages. However, the Bill does not affect marriages celebrated by marriage officers, which may be continue to be performed in a place of worship or in any other place in Bermuda, subject to the provisions of the Act.

Mr. Speaker, it is proposed to expand the venues of civil ceremonies beyond the Registrar’s office subject to permission being granted by the property owner to have access to the property with the approval of the Registrar. It is envisioned that this would allow civil ceremonies to be performed in venues such as buildings owned by Government to national parks and beaches as examples.  It is also proposed that the Registrar set policies as to the type of venues that might be appropriate.

Mr. Speaker, it is recommended that the fee for weddings performed before the Registrar outside of the Registrar’s office would be set in the Government Fees Regulations 1976 at $450, which represents a $205 or 83.7% increase over the $245 fee currently charged when ceremonies are performed at the Registry General.  Honourable Members will agree that the fee increase is reasonable and necessary to absorb any additional cost incurred by the Registry General to perform an out of office wedding, e.g. travel time and expense to perform a wedding in St. George’s or Dockyard.  Also, the new fee is comparable to the fees charged by various local churches for religious wedding ceremonies.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, the Marriage Amendment Act 2016 contributes to the Government’s efforts to rebuild Bermuda’s tourism industry by expanding the venues for civil marriage ceremonies beyond the Registrar’s office, providing more options so that Bermuda might be viewed as a more attractive wedding destination for tourists, and to generate new revenue by setting a fee of $450 in the Government Fees Regulations 1976 for civil ceremonies conducted outside the Registrar’s office.

Mr. Speaker, I now move that that the Bill entitled “Marriage Amendment Act 2016” be read for the second time.