March 31, 2014
Me thinks 'twas Alexander Pope, who warned, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Whether your humble servant is an angel or fool, "to cross swords" with that distinguished legal luminary attorney Wayne Munroe on a matter which may be regarded as highly legalistic is a matter which the reader may consider. However, having served as a marriage officer for more than 40 years, conducting hundreds of marriage ceremonies in Jamaica and throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, I do feel that it is incumbent upon me to respond to that document in which the distinguished attorney asserts that "there is nothing wrong with conducting a wedding ceremony in a police station".
For while strictly legally and technically speaking, there may be no law which prohibits such a practice, it is submitted that there are long established conventions, customs and "protocols" which militate strongly and conclusively against such an unprecedented action. There are, indeed, at least two reasons why such an action must be considered as most unacceptable and inappropriate, even if not illegal.
First and foremost, it is submitted that the venue is most inappropriate for the solemnization of matrimony, a very sacred act, whether done in accord with religious or secular rites. It calls, ideally speaking for the conjugal union of one man and one woman in accord with the Marriage Act (Ch. 88 Sec. 19 of the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas). Now in the application for a marriage license, the persons applying must state their name, date of birth or age, marital status, place of birth, profession and the name of one's father.
A license is then granted, granting permission to any marriage officer to administer the rite of matrimony. What is very significant is the fact that the marriage officer must state the place that a marriage has taken place in submitting the same to the registrar general. Usually, it takes place in a place of worship, a church, temple, mosque, according to the religion of the partners, the bride and groom. Provision is made for two witnesses to sign the register, the official record that the sacred ceremony has taken place on a particular date and place. Weddings also may be conducted in hotels, on the beach or on board a ship.
It is submitted, however, that a police station is a most inappropriate venue for a wedding. A person, who is in the custody of police, strictly speaking, should not be granted the privilege of making the very serious vows of matrimony. Nor should the officers of the police force permit such an act unless especially authorized to do so.
In the three centuries long history of marriages in The Bahamas, this holding of a wedding ceremony in a police station is entirely unprecedented. It has never happened before. This, in itself, should have raised "a red flag" in the minds of those responsible for the administration of matrimony in a police station.
This brings us to the second reason why the referenced marriage ceremony in a police station must be considered as wrong.
Because of the very serious nature of the wedding ceremony, it should never ever be conducted without the knowledge and permission of the person or body in charge of the venue. In nine out of 10 cases, when a marriage takes place in a church, it is administered by the priest or minister with pastoral responsibility for same. Moreover, if a minister of another congregation or denomination wants to conduct a service, he/she must get the permission of the rector or minister in charge. By the same token, if it is done in a hotel, then the permission of the manager must be sought. If on a beach, then the proprietor of the beach must be consulted. And on a ship, no marriage officer would dare to seek to conduct a marriage ceremony without the permission of the captain. Indeed, in most cases, it is the captain who is himself the marriage officer.
Now, the commissioner of the police is charged with the grave responsibility of administering all matters pertaining to the discipline of the police force and the proper use of all its facilities and equipment. Thus, just as a marriage officer must seek the permission of the manager in order to conduct a wedding in the hotel or of the captain onboard a ship, so any marriage officer who is called upon to conduct a wedding ceremony on any of the premises of the Royal Bahamas Police Force must seek the permission of the commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
If I was called upon to conduct a marriage ceremony in a police station, the first question I would ask, "Has the permission of the commissioner been granted?" Indeed, I would not even countenance holding such a sacred ceremony in any police station or any other building or premises without the permission of the commissioner in writing. And even if the marriage officer was willing to perform such a ceremony without consulting the commissioner, it was certainly the responsibility of the officer on duty to see to it that the permission of the commissioner was obtained.
It is, therefore, submitted that it was, indeed, an act of unprecedented irresponsibility on the part of the marriage officer and tantamount to gross insubordination on the part of the police officers concerned to have gone ahead with the solemnization of matrimony of a person in the custody of police in the police station without the knowledge and permission of the commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. This was an unforgivable breach of protocol.
Evidently, this was the first time that a person in police custody was married in a police station. Like the Lays of the Minstrels, may it be the last.
- Rev. Dr. J. Emmette Weir
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