Lennox Mwema, a writer based in Nairobi, hopes to marry before the year ends. Mwema, 28, has always desired a lavish church wedding complete with a grand reception and a host of merriments.
Mwema is in a bind though. The delights he envisioned for his nuptials could just be a pipe dream. The economics of organising for his dream wedding are beyond his reach. Reason? A wedding is just too costly and time consuming.
Mwema has now resorted to having an exclusive ceremony with only close family members and few friends. A small affair without flair. One that would cost Sh80,000 on the higher side. Yet he is still clueless about how he will raise this kind of money.
Mwema's story resonates with that of many other Kenyan couples, who are finding it harder to exchange their marriage vows because of an array of socioeconomic reasons.
It is for this reason that civil marriage has become the easier option for Kenyans who prefer simpler, quicker weddings, and those like Mwema who lack the financial muscle to organise elaborate ceremonies.
At the State Law Office, you walk in single, and few moments later, you walk out with your partner as newly-weds, complete with a marriage certificate.
On Tany given weekday, the office of the Registrar of Marriages along Harambee Avenue was teeming with activity. At the reception, attendants ask if you are there to book a wedding, referred to as issuing a wedding notice. After filling the notice form, you wait at the lobby with other couples.
You may issue a notice or apply for a special license. A special license is either when one or both parties are foreigners or when the couple is unable to issue a three week notice.
The process takes a maximum of 21 days after the initial booking. On the wedding day, you show up with your partner and wedding rings while accompanied by a minimum of two witnesses. A wedding gown is not a requirement. A venue is also provided for the occasion.
The marriage certificate, which comes in triplicate, is signed and just like that, you leave to start your happily ever after. Or otherwise. But why are young Kenyans finding it easier to exchange their marriage vows through the AG’s Office?
The church route, most argue, has become devastatingly demanding, with family, the church and the society often having dizzying expectations on the couple, turning the happy occasion into a dreadful experience.
Young couples who spoke to Nation said that “conventional” weddings done through the church have become unbearable, leave couples worn, stuck in the crevices of debt and with a bitter aftertaste of dissatisfied family members and friends in their wake.
When Linus Orindo, a journalist, married in 2015, he opted for a civil wedding at the Registrar of Marriages “because it was convenient, cheaper and less stressful”.
At the time, Orindo was only required to present witnesses, proof that he had not been married elsewhere (an Affidavit to confirm marital status) and a fee of Sh16,000. The process took less than two weeks.
According to The Marriage Act of 2014, a civil wedding may be conducted at the Registrar of Marriages, the County Commissioner’s office or at the office of the Sub county Commissioner. Peter Ngaruiya could not obtain an insurance cover for his family in 2016 for lack of a marriage certificate, a requisite document demanded for life cover.
“I had just started working and I did not have money to hold a church wedding. Besides, I feared that the tedious process would disrupt my work,” he explained. Ngaruiya, a salesperson, sought the help of an advocate who advised him to procure a civil wedding, which he did. He paid Sh1,400 for the wedding certificate. A week later, he had insured his family.