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The unfortunate incident in which Jackline Mwende’s limbs were mutilated by the husband Stephen Ngila in what was a troubled marriage should jolt us into asking fundamental questions about the role of religion in marriage. Is religion the reason most of us are staying in abusive marriages without reconsidering any other option? Most religious people, particularly Christians, argue that marriage is essentially and necessarily a religious rite. These Christians conceive of marriage in almost exclusively religious terms. In the bible, the book of Matthew 10:8 states that “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” The verse is read during most marriage ceremonies and is meant to cement the union, this holy matrimony until the death of either of the parties happens. In short, you must not even contemplate divorce.
The reason many partners are staying put in abusive marriages is because marriage is deemed sacred, and godly. Partners are encouraged to persevere, even when it is obvious that the marriage is endangering one of the partner’s lives. The case of Jackline Mwende has brought to the surface the implications of Matthew 10:8. Marriages are not about religion. They are about individuals. And yes, marriages are not supposed to last till death. There is nothing wrong with individuals or churches treating marriage as sacred or sacramental, but it is wrong for any institution, including the church, to impose a no way out edict on partners.
With this kind of incidences, we must rethink marriage. Let us encourage those in abusive marriages to seek proper counseling. Not necessarily from religious leaders, but from professional counselors. Civil unions and divorces should be promoted as a viable option. In civil society, marriage is authored by secular laws voted upon by parliamentarians and interpreted by the courts. We as citizens are the authors of civil marriage; religion should not play any essential role. Civil marriage does not exist in order to further any mandates from anyone’s gods. It does not exist simply to encourage and protect procreation. It does not exist because it is a “natural” function.
Parliament should rethink the marriage act and amend it to be more progressive. One of the areas of focus must be the process of divorce. The divorce process should take less time. The grounds for divorce should be simplified. Civil society should work closely with the government to de-stigmatize divorce, as well as single parenthood.
It is time to educate Kenyans about the benefits of civil unions. It is time to make available free and accessible counseling services for partners in abusive relationships.
Marriage within a religion might be conceived as having been authored by God, but that is not and cannot be the starting basis for civil society. That would be the very essence of what it means to live in a theocracy.Civil marriage exists because society finds that it is valuable and worthy to encourage and protect committed, intimate relationships that are pursued over an extended period of time.
It is time to reform our marriage laws, and inform and educate Kenyans about civil marriages.
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