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Marriage officers Licences sharing out like hot bread?

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Marriage officers are appointed in accordance with Section 9 (1) of the Marriage Act, Chapter 173 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the Act). According to the section, “the Governor General may appoint and remove at pleasure officers to be called registrars of marriage and also marriage officers who shall be ministers of religion and other persons as may be entitled to appointment under the provisions of this Act as marriage officers.”

Section 9 (2) allows Magistrates to be marriage registrars unless otherwise ordered by the Governor General but in practice today the Registrar and Deputy Registrar of the High Court ((professional/ lawyer by profession) perform as marriage registrars They also perform the role of marriage officers.{{more}} The Registrar and the Deputy Registrars are the only permanent non-religious marriage officers in SVG. A temporary arrangement could be made for lay persons only in specific situation as will be explained in another article.

Minister of Religion

Section 10 of the Act provides for ministers of religion to perform marriages. According to the section “ministers, of religion, whether acting for one congregation or having the superintendence of several congregations shall ordinarily be entitled ….to be appointed marriage officers of the parish or parishes in which they are so acting, but the Governor General may refuse to appoint any such minister of religion if he thinks him unfit”

The Act does not expect a marriage officer of a particular religion to perform ceremonies that are contrary to the rules of that particular religion. Procedure as to marriage ceremonies and counseling are arranged in accordance with their internal policy.

The decision to become a marriage officer is a personal one for a minister of religion. In other words no one could be compelled to become a marriage officer but the application is normally supported by the organization to which he belongs. It is also dependent on the needs of the congregation. The organization makes marriage officers available to their members in their own district to avoid the need to travel great distances to obtain these rites.

The practice is for the application for marriage officer to be presented to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. The applicant must provide the name and description of the place of worship and that of the congregation over which he or she has charge and wishes to be marriage officer. The application is then sent to other departments for specialized scrutiny.

Processing the application

A background check is normally done by the Police. The Registrar General is given the duty to examine the candidates to determine their knowledge of the Marriage Act. The prospective marriage officers are expected to have a thorough knowledge of the Marriage Act and be examined orally on it. If the candidate does not show proficiency he may be asked to return again to be examined. The Registrar General reports back to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs which makes all the other arrangements. The application receives final assent from the Governor General. A notice of the appointment is posted in the government’s Gazette.

Conduct of marriage officer after appointment

Upon his appointment the new marriage officer is provided with a set of the marriage registers. He has the duty to return a duplicate form to the Register Office for every marriage that he solemnizes or witnesses. The consequences for non-registration or late registration could be serious. The parties concerned might have to go before the court for an order for registration.

A marriage officer who intends to leave the country temporarily must inform the Registrar General about this. He must return the marriage register to the Register Office or make arrangements with the Registrar General’s approval to leave with a competent person while he is away.

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