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Closing Speech by Mr Desmond Lee on the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures For Solemnization and Registration of Marriages) Bill

1   Mr Speaker,

2   Dr Intan asked for the number of civil and Muslim marriages that were postponed due to the Circuit Breaker. Between 7 April and 1 June 2020, a total of 2,723 marriage solemnizations were originally scheduled. 365 of these were Muslim marriages and the remaining 2,358 were civil marriages. About 1,100 civil marriages and close to 200 Muslim marriages have so far been postponed , and most of the remaining would also have to be postponed if there is no video link option.

3   Dr Intan also asked whether Licensed Solemnizers will be provided with training to solemnize civil marriages via video link. Indeed, as this is a new process, it is important to make sure that solemnizers are comfortable and confident performing solemnization over video link, and to ensure that the process is done properly so that the solemnization is valid. ROM will be providing a set of guidelines and a basic training video to all Licensed Solemnizers called upon to solemnize marriages through video link. They can also approach ROM if they have any queries.

4   Ms Joan Pereira asked whether solemnizers could tap on the video link to offer marital advice to couples as they embark on their marriage journey. I agree that this is an important role that solemnizers play beyond the process of solemnizing the marriage itself.

5   Like the current in-person process, solemnizers can certainly share marital advice during the solemnization process through video link. If they feel that more time is needed, the couples and solemnizers are free to contact one another remotely, before or after the solemnization.

6   Mr Christopher de Souza commented on the need to regularly review the COVID-19 situation and whether there is still a need to allow for marriage solemnization through video link. I wish to clarify that the option to conduct marriage solemnizations via video link is an option for couples during these uncertain times. Those who can wait and prefer to solemnize their marriage in person can still do so when it is safe to do so. We will also review the need for these temporary measures regularly, taking into account the COVID-19 situation .

7   Mr Christopher de Souza also asked whether the new Bill allows parties to cancel their notice of marriage, the rationale for doing so, and under what circumstances notices of marriage can be cancelled. I fully agree with him that filing a notice of marriage holds particular meaning, by signifying that the couple have made a considered decision to enter into marriage.

8   Under normal circumstances, when a couple files a notice of marriage, they need to wait till after the 3-month notice period lapses, if they wish to reschedule their marriage to a much later date beyond the 3-month period. However, due to fluidity and uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 situation, we would also like to provide couples with more flexibility to plan their marriages. And we provide this in 2 ways.

9   First, we are extending the validity of the notice of marriage from 3 months to 12 months, to help couples who need to push back their wedding date. With a longer validity period, couples need not repeatedly file notices of marriage and wait for the mandatory 21-day period for each notice to be over before they proceed to get married.

10   Second, we are also allowing couples to submit applications to the Registrar to cancel the notice of marriage, if there are valid reasons to do so, such as the need to postpone their marriage till 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.

11   Let me thank the Members who have expressed their support for the Bill, as well as all our Licensed Solemnizers who continue to volunteer their time in this important first step of a couple's marriage. As I have said earlier, it is important during these challenging times that we ensure that Singaporeans can continue with their lives, especially for key life events like marriage. 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 the necessary precautions. I seek Members' support for this Bill.

12   Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move. 

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