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By David Odongo

The Marriage Bill 2013, which is currently before the National Assembly, may have stirred debate for some of its controversial proposals, but it appears the world of marital laws has colourful legal prescriptions.

And we are not talking about ‘backward’ traditions like a man enjoying the right to sleep with an age-mate’s wife by simply planting a spear outside the house or wife inheritors scouring villages to ‘cleanse’ widows. No, these are laws that exist in the books, or have only recently been done away with. Admittedly, some are difficult, or even impossible, to enforce but, hey, some litigious soul may still revive them.

Most such laws are apparently drafted to protect the public and to maintain civility but some appear to be the byproducts of a moment of lunacy by the lawmakers. America seems to be the leader in some of the strangest marriage laws. Sample these:

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South Carolina – No ‘mock proposal’

Nairobian men, who may soon face the law for giving unfulfilled marriage proposals, should be consoled that they are not alone. In South Carolina it is worse. Anybody above the age of 16 years is apparently not allowed to perform a ‘mock proposal’ if they do not mean it.

Montana – ‘Proxy weddings’ allowed

There’s also a bizarre one in Montana right from the wedding day. The law apparently allows ‘proxy weddings’ for those serving in the military. That means a friend can pretend to be the groom or the bride and the union will still be considered valid. In some cases both the bride and the groom may be absent but give consent for proxies to ‘marry’ on their behalf. Hopefully, it all ends at the wedding venue and there is no extension to the cha baba na cha mama (husband and wife) roles.

Delawere: Marriage for experiment

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And while Nairobi men were threatened that come-we-stay relationships that overstay (that is, go beyond six months) may lead to a couple being declared married, in Delaware those who want to ‘try life’ by experimenting if they can live as husband and wife together are allowed to do so and will find it easy to annul the union if things do not work out, without going through a lengthy divorce.

Kansas: Mother-in-law excuse? No way!

To those who hate their mothers-in-law with such passion that they may sight this as grounds for divorce, watch out. This is apparently not allowed as a good enough reason in Kansas. Upende usipende, she’s there to stay, so find other excuses, sir.

Louisiana: No ‘mganga’ business

To those that believe in contacting mganga kutoka Tanga (witchdoctor from Tanga) or ‘Prof Maji Mafupi’ to read the palm of your hands and predict the future, then you may find difficulty in Louisiana. The law says that seeking prediction of the future of your marriage is illegal.

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Arkansas: You can beat her, but once

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, a husband is allowed to beat the wife, but only once a month. This bizarre marriage law was put in place back in the 1800s, during a time when wife beating was not only accepted, but encouraged. Guess Fida will have a word or two on this monthly dose!

Rhode Island: Idiots not wanted

In Rhode Island a union is to be considered invalid if either party is declared an idiot or a lunatic. Now, that makes a lot of sense.

Arizona: Vibrators okay, but just one

In Arizona, having more than two vibrators in the house is illegal. A person living in a household containing more than two vibrators can be subject to criminal prosecution. Hmm, that might leave someone shaking in anger, fear or passion.

Massachusetts: Is she on top?

In Iowa, it is illegal for a man with a moustache to kiss a woman in public while in  Massachusetts it is illegal for a woman to be on the top during sex! Come on guys, life can’t be that boring!

Oh, and it is also apparently illegal for a man and a woman who rent a room for the night to sleep nude. Note to self: Do not carry birthday suit to Massachusetts. Hopefully there are no moral police to enforce this. And imagine if someone came up with such a law for River Road’s ‘cheap accommodation’! There would surely be a haki yetu protest.

Virginia: You have to put up with her in bed

Still on beds and sleeping, in Virginia it is illegal for a man to kick a woman out of bed. Since it is not clear if the opposite also applies, off you go to the couch man — there are no legal implications if she throws you out of bed. 

Amongst the laws that actually make sense is from the state of Nebraska where anyone with gonorrhea cannot get married.

North Carolina: Only missionary position!

In Vermont, a wife needs the husband’s permission to wear false teeth while in North Carolina, during sex couples must do it in the missionary position with the curtains pulled. This means that if any of your sexual endeavours require a lot of gymnastics moves, you better hide behind closed doors or the police will be on your case.

Oregon: Dirty sex talk censored

The strangest law comes from Oregon where dirty talk during sex is illegal. What isn’t clear is exactly what level of filth would warrant criminal action. Good thing the law is quiet on moaning or grunting during sex.

Utah: You can’t marry your cousin

In Utah, you can’t marry your cousin unless you are both over 65 years. So do the blood ties disappear at that age?

Further, a husband is supposed to be responsible for his wife’s actions as long as he is with her at the time of her ‘actions’. Did somebody just say, tight leash? That’s mean!

In the meantime, they do not seem to like kurukaruka (being jumpy) too much in Kentucky. Apparently, a woman cannot remarry the same man more than three times.

India: Wife can be security for debt

Away from the US, in parts of India a man owing a debt to another could have his wife taken from him until the debt is paid. Talk of sure collateral — even though some men would be happy to let her go!

Greece: Stop press!

And the Greek want to be very sure that words match actions. The law requires those planning to get married to publish their wedding notice in a newspaper (written in Greek, no less) or on the City Hall notice board.

France: No one marries the dead

And the French have some strange ones, too. For anybody with a bizarre sense of loyalty, note that it is illegal to marry a dead person — even if they had agreed to marry you while alive and you only want to fulfill the wish.

Hong Kong: You can kill cheating hubby

Still on death, in Hong Kong there’s a law that allows a wife to kill her husband if she finds him cheating. But there’s a catch; this must be done with the bare hands.

Well, looks like the services of the excitable Nderitu Njoka of Maendeleo ya Wanaume may be needed beyond our borders.  

So ladies and gentlemen in Nairobi, as we complain about women giving consent for polygamous marriages, sharing wealth 50-50 and false marriage promises, let’s spare a thought for those in places with weird laws in their legal books (enforced or not). With laws like these elsewhere, we can’t complain too much, can we?

-Information compiled from multiple Internet sources

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Marriage Bill 2013 National Assembly lawmaker
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