CJ Koome Fronts Bill to Allow Wedded Persons Marry Outside Wedlock

CJ Martha Koome
Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court of Kenya Justice Martha Koome during the admission of Advocates to the Bar on Thursday, March 2, 2023.

Wedded people with intentions of marrying outside wedlock will be free to seek other partners even if their spouses are still alive if a new bill proposed by the Judiciary becomes law.

In a raft of amendments, Chief Justice Martha Koome has proposed repealing several sections of the Penal Code including Section 171 that touch on Bigamy.

Unions affected by the proposed law include marriages under religious weddings and legally recognised customary marriages. 

Based on the current law, you cannot marry another person while your wife or husband is still alive if you are not separated.

Photo of Lady Justice Martha Koome at the launch of the SGBV conference in Nairobi on October 17, 2023
Photo of Lady Justice Martha Koome at the launch of the SGBV conference in Nairobi on October 17, 2023

The current Penal Code says that any legally married person who secretly weds outside their marriage is guilty of committing a felony and liable for five years imprisonment.

''Provided that this section shall not extend to any person whose marriage with the husband or wife has been declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife if the husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, has been continually absent from such person for the space of seven years, and has not been heard of by such person as being alive within that time,'' the section states.

Section 172 of the Penal Code is also clear; stipulating that anyone who seeks someone else's hand in marriage with ulterior motives including being dishonest and harbouring intentions to commit fraud is guilty of an offense.

''Any person who dishonestly or with a fraudulent intention goes through the ceremony of marriage, knowing that he is not thereby lawfully married, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years,'' the section states.

Cases of infidelity and bigamy in marriage have been rampant in the country resulting in various court cases, some ending in imprisonment.

The Marriage Act of 2014 on polygamy was assented into law by former President Uhuru is not included in the Amendment Bill.

The Bill was passed in Parliament in March 2014 with most male MPs supporting it while female lawmakers fiercely opposed it.

A photo of a marriage certificate
A photo of a marriage certificate.