Over the years people tend to confuse the meanng of church wedding and blessing of marriage. While some think they are one and the same, others think otherwise. Marriage is what the law recognises and if any celebration whatsoever is not in line with the provisions of the law, that marriage is said to be invalid and will no legal effect whatsoever.
It is universally accepted that marriage is a union between two parties usually a man and woman who has agreed to live together and cohabit to the exclusion of others. In Nigeria two types of marriages is recognised to wit; polygamous marriage and monogamous marriage. The scope of this legal piece will be restricted to monogamous marriage and to give a general guide to the subject matter.
It is pertinent to note that a monogamous marriage in Nigeria is the same as in England. It is a marriage which Lord Penzance described in HYDE V HYDE (1886) LRIP&D 130 as the voluntary union for life of one man one woman to the exclusion of all others.
S. 256 of the Evidence Act 2011 as amended defined a wife and husband to mean respectively the wife and husband of a marriage validly contracted under the marriage Act, or under ISLAMIC LAW or CUSTOMARY LAW applicable in Nigeria and includes any marriage recognised as valid under the marriage Act.
There are basically two laws regulating marriage under the act in Nigeria and they includes the Matrimonial causes Act 2004 and the Marriage Act 2004.
Over the years there has been a lot of controversy as to the difference or similarity between church marriage in a licenced place of worship and blessing of marriage in a licenced place of worship.
A marriage is said to be valid where it conforms to laws and Legal requirements created for that purpose.
Some religious denominations in Nigeria perform the ‘church blessing’ of marriages. For instance, some religious organizations in Nigeria insist that their members who have married otherwise than in accordance with their prescribed religious rites must have their marriages blessed in their churches. It is pertinent to note that such blessing of marriage does not ipso facto convert the marriage into a statutory marriage in cases where both parties have been married under customary law, neither does it add anything to the marriage where parties have been married under the act.
In the case of MARTINS v ADENUGBA (1946) 18 NLR 63 a priest blessed a customary law marriage on 17 September 1942. He issued, in a printed form, a certificate to the parties in respect of that ceremony. It was later contended that there was a valid marriage under the Marriage Act. The court held that the ceremony of the 17th September was merely the blessing of a customry law marriage, and therefore did not constitute a marriage.
Any ceremony of marriage in a church which does not conform with the requirements of a valid marriage in a licenced place of worship is simply a blessing of marriage.
It is pertinent to note that a valid statutory marriage conducted in a licenced place of worship must be in accordance with Section 7 to 17 of the Marriage Act for a marriage to be valid. What does the law provide as the requirements? Preliminaries to marriage must be complied with as well as other requirements.
The requirements provided in the Act must be complied with. Unlike in blessing of marriage where no formal requirements is necessary. Parties go to a church, invite guests, take or renew vows as the case may be and proceed to reception without complying with the requirements of the marriage Act.
In NWANGWU v. UBANI (1997) 10 NWLR (Pt. 526) 559 CA the Court of Appeal held that mere celebration of a marriage in a church as was done in the case does not confer statutory flavour to the marriage.
In order to convert a customary law marriage into a statutory marriage, the parties must consciously take steps and adopt the procedure contained in the Marriage Act.
A statutory marriage is one that has complied with the Marriage Act as to the elements of a valid marriage. S. 33 of the Marriage Act.
The preliminary steps must be complied with such as;
a. Display of notice simultaneously on Notice Board in Marriage Registry and entered into the Marriage Register.
b. If there is no objection after 3 months, Registrar issues the marriage certificate.
c. Ensure that they parties have been RESIDENT WITHIN THE DISTRICT 15 DAYS prior to the issuing of certificate. etc
Other requirements may include consent, age, and observance of prohibited degree of consanguinity.
Before blessing of marriage can commence, the parties must have been previously married I.e under native law and custom. The parties are blessing a marriage of some sort which is usually an existing customary marriage and where the parties have not undergone a valid church wedding in accordance with the Marriage Act, they are simply married under native law and custom nothwithstanding the blessing of marriage.
Blessing of marriage though in form of a wedding ceremony in a licenced place of worship is not a statutory marriage. What the blessing of marriage does is that it confirms that both parties already have an existing marriage and they have come for blessings.
Blessing of marriage does not convert a customary marriage to a statutory marriage, neither can it be regarded as proper if there are no existing customary law marriage. Blessing of marriage does not comply with the formalities of a statutory marriage i.e church wedding in a licenced place of worship like notices at the marriage , caveats, licence, marriage certificate etc. It often times is not accompanied by by a reception where guests are entertained.
In a more elaborate distinction, a blessing of marriage is a simple service acknowledging the commitment already made between husband and wife during usually a customary marriage by way of a ceremony and asking for God’s blessing and guidance in your new life together.
Because it is not a marriage service, wedding invitation cards are not required, there is no exchange of rings or there may be in some cases and there is no signing of the Register.
It can be designed to have a similar feel to a wedding with hymns, readings, flowers and even bells if you would like that, or it can be an intimate, low key service. The service itself has no statutory fee (because it is not a legal service) but there may be some costs, such as flowers, bells and use of an organist. These would be charged at the church’s local rate.
You can have a blessing in any church of your choice, so long as the church and the vicar are free on your preferred date.
In most churches couples would not be wedded where they already have kids but same does not apply to blessing of marriage. Blessing of marriage can still commence years after the couple have started a family with kids.