SINGAPORE: Marriage solemnisations during the COVID-19 pandemic can now be conducted virtually through a live video link, after the passing of new legislation in Parliament on Tuesday (May 5).
Under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures for Solemnisation and Registration of Marriages) Bill, civil and Muslim marriage solemnisations as well as registrations can be conducted remotely during the COVID-19 period.
The Bill was tabled in Parliament on Monday and passed on Tuesday.
The new law could kick in from as early as the second half of this month, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) in a press release.
While the temporary measures are in force, there will be no need for the couple, witnesses, wali as well as the licensed solemniser, kadi or naib kadi to be physically present at the solemnisation venue, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament.
Certain "key processes" relating to marriage that currently must be done in person, may be done via video link, and will be equally valid under the law, he added.
"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," Mr Lee said.
SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE
At the same time, there will be "safeguards" in place to ensure only legitimate marriages are solemnised and registered through video link, said Mr Lee.
For one, the Registrars of Marriages (ROM) and Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) will have the discretion for each marriage application to decide whether video link can be used for verification and statutory declarations, as well as marriage solemnisations.
“This enables the Registrars to ensure that cases that require more careful scrutiny are still handled in person, when it is safe to do so,” said Mr Lee.
The couple, their witnesses, and in the case of Muslim marriages, the wali, must all be physically present in Singapore, he added.
Couples presenting foreign-issued documents for verification will still need to do so physically, said Mr Lee. This will ensure “greater scrutiny” to the veracity of documents and identity of parties.
As a start, priority would be given to video link processes to marriages involving at least one Singapore citizen or permanent resident, said Mr Lee.
READ: Solemnisations between Apr 7 and May 4 will need to be postponed, appeals heard on 'case-by-case' basis: MSF, ROMM
Last month, MSF and ROMM said that solemnisations scheduled for between the initial circuit breaker period of Apr 7 and May 4 would need to be postponed, with appeals heard on a "case-by-case" basis. The circuit breaker period has since been extended by four weeks until Jun 1.
Responding to a question from Member of Parliament Intan Azura Mokhtar, who asked for the number of civil and Muslim marriages that have been postponed due to circuit breaker measures, Mr Lee said that a total of 2,723 marriage solemnisations were originally scheduled between Apr 7 and Jun 1.
About 1,100 civil marriages and close to 200 Muslim marriages have been postponed so far, and most of the remaining marriages would have also had to be postponed if there was no video link option, said Mr Lee.
"I would like to thank these couples for their patience and understanding during these difficult times," said Mr Lee.
"It is not easy to cope with the uncertainty, especially for important life events such as getting married and starting a family."
Dr Intan also asked whether licensed solemnisers will be provided with training to help them carry out the duty of solemnising civil marriages via video link.
"Indeed, as this is a new process, it is important to make sure that solemnisers are comfortable and confident performing solemnisation over video link, and to ensure that the process is done properly so that the solemnisation is valid," replied Mr Lee.
"ROM will be providing a set of guidelines and a basic training video to all licenced solemnisers called upon to solemnise marriages through video link. They can also approach ROM if they have any queries."
Solemnisers for Muslim marriages will also be trained accordingly, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zukifli.
"ROMM will train kadis and naib kadi to ensure they are able to use remote technology during this period," said Mr Masagos.
He added that adaptations to the way Muslim marriages are conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic do not mean that religious imperatives are not observed.
Under the new law, for civil marriages, couples will also have 12 months to get married after filing a notice of marriage, instead of the current three months. This will help couples cope with the "uncertainty" arising from the COVID-19 situation, said Mr Lee.
“We hope that the extension of the validity of the marriage licence will allow couples greater flexibility in planning their marriage solemnisation date as well as reduce the administrative burden,” he added.
Responding to a question from MP Christopher De Souza, Mr Lee said that couples will be allowed to submit applications to the Registrar to cancel their notice of marriage if there were valid reasons to do so - such as the need to postpone their marriage until much later.
"Each application for cancellation will be reviewed by the Registrar, before the Registrar cancels the notice. I would like to reassure Members that the Registrar will not allow frivolous applications to cancel notices of marriage," said Mr Lee.
The measures under the new law will apply and last until the COVID-19 pandemic improves, stressed Mr Lee. If these temporary measures turn out to be well-received by couples and there is no compromise to the integrity of the marriage process, there is a possibility this option may be extended beyond the COVID-19 period, he added.
"It is important during these challenging times that we ensure that Singaporeans can continue with their lives, especially for key life events like marriage," said Mr Lee.
"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 necessary precautions."