Members of Parliament yesterday asked to be designated as marriage officers so that they can solemnise civil unions but the proposal was shot down by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi as it would blur the divide between legislators and administrators.
A second proposal, to allow traditional leaders to solemnise civil unions as well as administering the law on customary unions, seemed to have more chance of success. At present civil unions can be solemnised by magistrates and some other State employees and by honorary marriage officers, normally approved ministers of religion who agree to follow set rules and standards.
The legislators said designating them as marriage officers would save rural communities the labour and cost of travelling to urban areas to have their unions solemnised.
This came out during debate on the Marriages Bill in the National Assembly.
During committee stage, legislators would be analysing the proposed law clause by clause.
Norton MP, Mr Temba Mliswa said legislators had been designated as commissioners of oaths and had successfully discharged their role. Buhera South MP Cde Joseph Chinotimba (Zanu-PF) concurred. “We have been passing laws here in Parliament, we have the respect of the people in our communities and what stops us from solemnising unions?” asked Cde Chinotimba.
Minister Ziyambi shot down the proposal saying it would set a bad precedent.
“We are politicians and we are legislators. Let us stick to that role and allow those whom we have designated to do job to do it. Members of Parliament are not Government employees and if we are to allow politicians to be marriage officers we would have misdirected ourselves,” said Minister Ziyambi.
There was also a heated debate on a proposed amendment by Minister Ziyambi to restrict traditional leaders from solemnising civil marriages but only customary unions.
Minister Ziyambi said traditional leaders should mainly administer customary marriage since their role was to superintend tradition and customs.
Legislators said restricting traditional leaders had the effect of demeaning them.
Proportionate representative MP, Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said disqualifying traditional leaders from presiding over civil marriages would compel couples to either travel longer distances or enter into a union, which they were not comfortable with.
“If I am in the rural area, the only union that can be solemnised on me is customary marriage,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga. Mr Mliswa said the restriction amounted to discrimination.
After a protracted debate, Minister Ziyambi agreed to make further amendments and remove the proposed amendment and allow all those who qualify to be marriage officers.
Meanwhile, Glen View South MP, Mr Vincent Tsvangirai, son of MDC-T founding leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, yesterday broke ranks with the MDC Alliance led by Mr Nelson Chamisa when he defied a directive to boycott Parliament. Mr Tsvangirai attended the sitting in the Chamber.
During yesterday’s sittings, Speaker of the National Assembly, Advocate Jacob Mudenda warned those opposition legislators boycotting sittings and committees that Parliament would invoke the constitution and after missing the laid-down number of days they could lose their seats.