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

1   Mr Speaker, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.

I. Introduction

2   As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to curtail and change many aspects of life that we're used to - school and work, but also family life and daily routines. Many of us have had to adjust our plans or put them on hold. We have had to accept greater uncertainty in our lives.

3   During the Circuit Breaker period, 2,723 couples were originally scheduled to have their solemnizations between 7 April and 1 June this year. However, as marriage solemnizations must currently be conducted in person, many have had to postpone their solemnizations. This includes both civil and Muslim marriages.

4   I would like to thank these couples for their patience and understanding during these difficult times. It is not easy to cope with the uncertainty, especially for important life events such as getting married and starting a family.

5   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.

II. Intent of the Bill

6   I am therefore putting this Bill before the House. If passed, it will allow marriage solemnizations and registrations for both civil marriages under the Women's Charter, and Muslim marriages under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (or AMLA), to be performed through a live video or live television link during the COVID-19 period.

7   This will give eligible couples the option of making their statutory declarations and having their marriages solemnized via video link, if they prefer not to wait to do so in person.

8   I will now highlight the key provisions of this Bill.

III. Key Provisions in the Bill

A. Enabling verification of documents, making of statutory declarations, and marriage solemnizations through video link

9   First, clauses 2(1), 2(4), 3(1), 3(2), 3(3), and 4 will make it clear that certain key processes relating to marriage, which currently must be done in person, may be done via video link instead, and will be equally valid under the law.

10   This applies to the verification of documents and the making of statutory declarations by the couple, as well as the wali in the case of Muslim marriages, which currently must be done by the couple in the physical presence of a Commissioner for Oaths.

11   This also applies to the solemnization of marriages. While the temporary measures are in force, we will dispense with the requirement for the couple, witnesses, wali as well as the Licensed Solemnizer, Kadi or Naib Kadi to be physically present at the solemnization venue.

B. Use of video link for verification of documents, making of statutory declarations and marriage solemnization will be allowed only at Registrars' discretion

12   Second, we will put in place safeguards to ensure that only legitimate marriages are solemnized and registered through video link. For example, there may be a small number of cases where the identities of the couples and relevant parties cannot be easily ascertained over video link, or where the case may involve a potential marriage of convenience, or parties possibly being coerced into marriage.

13   Therefore, clauses 2(1) and 3(1) will give the Registrars of the Registry of Marriages and the Registry of Muslim Marriages the discretion to decide whether video link can be used for verification and statutory declarations, as well as marriage solemnizations, for each marriage application. 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.

14   Besides this broad discretion, we will also put in place several key criteria.

15   First, the Registrars must be satisfied that the overall administrative and technological facilities and arrangements are sufficient to ensure that the marriage is legitimate. This includes ensuring that all parties involved have access to a computer or other smart devices that enable all parties to be adequately seen and heard and have their identities verified.

16   Second, consistent with the law today, the couple, their witnesses, and in the case of Muslim marriages, the wali, must all be physically present in Singapore.

17   Third, couples presenting foreign-issued documents for verification will still need to do so physically. This ensures greater scrutiny can be given to the veracity of the documents and the identities of the parties. As a start, we are also prioritising video link processes to marriages involving at least one Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident.

18   I will add that while the Bill allows for solemnizations via video link to take place, it remains up to the solemnizer and the couple to decide if they are comfortable and confident with doing so. Even with this option in place, we will seek to conduct solemnizations in person when it is safe to do so.

C. Extension of period for when a marriage licence shall be valid, for civil marriages

19   Finally, to help couples cope with the uncertainty arising from the COVID-19 situation, we will also be extending the amount of time that couples have to get married after filing a notice of marriage under the Women's Charter.

20   Currently, couples have to get married within 3 months from the date they file their notice of marriage.

21   During the COVID-19 pandemic, many couples have had to cancel their notices as they were unable to proceed with their wedding within the 3 months. There are also other logistical arrangements that need to be considered, such as the booking of wedding venues, photography, and wedding gowns , wedding suits and so on.

22   Given the uncertainty over when the COVID-19 pandemic may end, clause 2(2) will allow couples to get married within 12 months from the date of filing their notice of marriage, instead of the current 3 months. This means that marriage notices filed up to 3 months before the commencement of this Act, and which have not been cancelled or not expired, will automatically have their validity extended to 12 months. Couples do not need to re-apply for this extension.

23   We hope that the extension of the validity of the marriage licence will allow couples greater flexibility in planning their marriage solemnization date as well as reduce the administrative burden.

D. Duration of Temporary Measures

24   The temporary measures effected by this Bill will apply and last until the COVID-19 pandemic improves.

25   If these temporary measures to allow the marriage process to be carried out via video link prove to be well received by couples and we are satisfied that there is no compromise to the integrity of the marriage process, we can consider extending this option beyond the COVID-19 period. This will require an amendment to the Women's Charter and to AMLA.

26. Mr Speaker, let me now speak in Chinese.

27   随着2019冠状病毒疾病(COVID-19)局势的演变,我们采取了不同的措施以有效地应对。我们也因此必须改变我们所习惯的生活方式。许多国人也得改变或搁置原先的计划。目前,婚礼必须面对面进行。因此,在冠病阻断措施实施期间,许多婚礼得延迟举行。

28   2019冠状病毒疾病(主办婚礼和结婚登记的临时措施)法案将在冠病疫情期间让在妇女宪章下举行的民事婚礼以及在回教行政法令下举行的回教婚礼通过直播视频连接得以进行。

29   这将让新人选择通过视频做出宣誓声明并举行婚礼。

30   采取这个选项有几个条件。首先,新人和他们的见证人,都必须身处新加坡。

31   第二,持有外国文件的新人仍需到婚姻注册局亲自出示文件以及审查。这将确保对文件的真实性和新人的身份有更严格的审查。

32   第三,登记官 . 仍有权要求任何新人在安全的情况下,面对面进行婚礼。这将确保登记官能亲自给予比较复杂的个案更仔细的审查。

33   如果这个视频选项受新人欢迎,而我们也满意它对婚姻程序的完整性无损,我们会考虑将选项延长至冠病疫情后。

IV. Conclusion

34   Mr Speaker, Sir, in conclusion, it is vital during these trying times for us to ensure that Singaporeans can continue with key life milestones, with precautions and safeguards put in place. We have to adapt to the current climate, and prepare ourselves for possible new norms in our social lives. Through process re-engineering, tapping on innovation and technology, and making adjustments to the way we conduct our lives, it is possible for us to cope, adjust and adapt, even under the cloud of the global pandemic.

35   We hope that this Bill will give couples more options to plan their next step in life, and reduce the disruption arising from COVID-19.

36   We understand that this period has caused a lot of uncertainty and concern to couples who are planning to get married . The teams at ROM and ROMM have been working hard to reach out to couples who have had their wedding plans affected, to work with them to postpone their weddings and work out alternative arrangements. From 1 March to 30 April, ROM and ROMM have reached out to about 3,500 couples. And besides thanking these couples for their understanding and patience during this trying period, I would also like to record my appreciation for the hard work of our frontline officers at both ROM and ROMM, who are supporting and helping our couples.

37   Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move. 

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