Back when I was still a law school student I thought it hilariously unfortunate that an unhappy couple had to stay married for five years before they could get divorced. Why did I think it was hilarious? Because it boggled my mind that lawmakers could even attempt to get intervene in a failed marriage. In my estimation it was a recipe for disaster.
Imagine this scenario; a couple marries too young and then grows apart. Or they get married because the girl is pregnant, an event colloquially known as the ‘Kigali Proposal’. Later on, they find that raising a child together isn’t a good enough reason to stay in a marriage that isn’t working. So, instead of wasting any more time they want to amicably go their separate ways. But they find that they have to stay ‘married’ for another five years.
Unfortunately, our laws intervene in even such mutual, and private, matters. I believe that this refusal to let a marriage ‘die gracefully’ is borne out of two things; our culture as Rwandans and the advent of Christianity (more especially Catholicism). Culturally and religiously speaking, the very idea of divorce was abhorrent to Rwandans.
Historically, a man who sent his wife back to her parents (known as ‘Gusenda’ in Kinyarwanda) because he was unable to ‘Kwihangana’ (to persevere) lost face. He was seen as a failure. So, in a society where losing face was sometimes worse than death, divorce was not a step taken lightly.
When Rwanda become colonised and evangelised, divorce became even more taboo. In Matthew Chapter 19 Verse 9, Jesus says, and I quote, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” So, when married couples vowed to stay married “til death do us part” the entire community fully expected them to fulfill those vows come hell or high water.
I sincerely understand the points of view of those who support the idea of a waiting period. I can’t think of any married couples that enter into the marriage contract thinking theirs is the marriage that wont stand the test of time. However, the fact is, some simply don’t. And while I can understand the larger family getting involved and attempting to repair the relationship, why in the world is the State getting involved? Is it not simply overreaching and putting its nose in matters that don’t affect it?
Yes it regulates the marriage age. Yes it regulates the marriage process (the wedding banns and what not). But that doesn’t mean that it has the right to refuse divorce, especially when it is by mutual consent. To continue doing so is an imposition on personal freedoms.
The State should not have the right to tell me when I can or cannot divorce. It’s simply preposterous. I am honestly shocked that our Members of Parliament are simply thinking about reducing the ‘waiting period’ from five to two. I urge them to stop living in a fantasy world where if they don’t allow a couple to divorce, they will magically fall in love again and live happily ever after. That way of thinking should be left to Hollywood romantic-comedy scriptwriters than hardnosed legislators.
I know that the ‘marriage-at-all cost brigade’ will bash me for my views. But I stand by them. I believe that we need laws that protect personal freedoms and treat us like adults. Currently, our legislators are not giving us the respect that we deserve. We are being infantilised by a State that is guilty is over-reaching. I urge our MPs to take us forward. Help create a nation that is more liberal, not less.