Bill filed to legalize weddings via videoconferencing
- House Bill No. 7042 or the proposed Virtual Marriage Act was filed to legalize weddings done via videoconferencing, by Kabayan Party List Rep. Ron Salo.
- ‘Virtual’ refers to the use of video, audio and data transmission devices that allow people from different physical locations to simultaneously communicate, see and hear each other,’ the House bill read.
- The bill specifically provides that “contracting parties must be physically present together in the same location.” The solemnizing officer and the witnesses may be present elsewhere.
- Engaged couples did not welcome the bill saying it takes away the solemnity of the ceremony and does not make it special for a once in a lifetime event.
Like most women, Nicole, 26, has always dreamed of having a grand wedding –well-planned, held in a nice venue, with photo and video coverage, where she marches down the aisle in a wedding dress.
She also wants her relatives and friends to be there. “But of course ‘di na ideal ‘yong ganoong events ’cause of the pandemic; limited na lang talaga dapat mga guests (those events are no longer ideal because of the pandemic, the number of guests have to be limited),” she said.
Last year, many events, among them weddings, which gather a crowd were canceled or postponed due to the health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 Among the protocols was the imposition of limited number of people allowed in churches or private venues.
But as they say, life has to go on, and love stories need to have happy endings – even during a pandemic.
So, why not legalize a virtual wedding via videoconferencing?
At the House of Representatives recently, House Bill No. 7042 or the proposed Virtual Marriage Act, was filed to legalize weddings done via videoconferencing.
Its proponent, Kabayan Party List Rep. Ron Salo, said it “now is the opportune time” to legalize the virtual marriage “to adapt to present realities and fully utilize technological advances”.
“With the need to enforce physical distancing in the light of the current pandemic, virtual presence has become an accepted alternative, even in legal proceedings, here and abroad. Indeed, videoconferencing is now the new norm,” Salo said in explaining his bill during a House hearing held last Tuesday, February 9.
They still prefer an old fashioned wedding
News of the bill though was not met with enthusiasm by couples who are waiting to get married. Comments ranged from the virtual ceremony taking away the essence of a wedding, to a ceremony that does not seem like a real wedding for it takes away the solemnity of a once in a lifetime event.
Nicole said she still wants to have her dream wedding even if zoom marriages will be allowed by law.
“No, ayoko. Para kasing nawala na ‘yong essence ng wedding kung via video conference lang gagawin (No, I don’t like it. It’s like voiding the essence of the wedding if it will only be held via video conference),” she said.
Her boyfriend, Marlon, also shared this view: “Parang hindi na siya totoong ‘kasal’ (It’s not a real ‘wedding’ anymore)…I just can’t consider it a real wedding.”
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime event…Limiting [the] crowd or [the number of] guests is the best option [while following] the existing health protocols,” Nicole said.
Another couple who recently got engaged –Paul, 32, and Princess, 26 – said they also prefer a physical marriage, albeit intimate and with a few guests. They are set to wed in November this year.
“We want to get married in the church and have the usual gathering with our close friends and family,” they said. “We have the same idea of [a] wedding, it’ll be a small church wedding where only a few family members and friends are invited.”
For Vanessa, 30, and Don, 32, who have been married for two years, online weddings are “not solemn” like traditional marriages.
They pointed out that marriage is a “covenant before God.”
Husband and wife Miguel, 33, and Melissa, 26, also said they would not have chosen to get married virtually. “Mas iba kasi intimacy ‘pag mag kaharap kayo personal ‘pag nagpapalitan ng vows (The intimacy is much different when you are exchanging vows personally),” Miguel said in a separate interview.
While the two welcomed the option, they, too, opined: ” That happens only once in a lifetime.”
Timely and practical
On the other hand, there are also couples who view virtual weddings to be timely and practical.
“The idea is timely, this will help avoid mass gatherings…This bill is practical, time-saving and [will involve] stress-free planning especially this pandemic. Couples don’t need to deal with the minimum standard protocols for the church and venue if the wedding will be via online,” Princess said.
Partners who have a tight budget and want to tie the knot during the pandemic will also benefit from the bill, they said, “since they don’t need to pay for a venue, church and other wedding expenses.”
No ‘walk down the aisle’
“The only downside of this is they can’t get the full experience of a wedding, [like] walking down the aisle, followed by the reception with your friends and family,” Princess noted.
“I’d rather wait na mas maging okay ‘yong situation, ‘yong ikasal talaga ng pastor namin nang face-to-face, hindi virtual (when the situation gets better, when we finally can get married before our pastor, face-to-face, not virtual),” Nicole, for her part, said.
Priests reject proposal
Priests were also quick to reject the proposal, even as they have resorted to celebrating masses virtually because of COVID-19.
In July, 2020, just a couple of days after Salo filed the bill, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Public Affairs Committee said in another news report: “Allowing virtual union diminishes the essence and dignity of marriage itself”.
“Marriage can wait. And if couples are truly for it, there will always be a proper time for its celebration,” Secillano said.
He maintained that couples should be physically present to be able to determine if the consent to the marriage is willingly given.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) aired the same reservation during the recent House hearing, saying “there is no way of ascertaining if the consent was really given.”
What’s in the bill?
House Bill No. 7042 or the proposed Virtual Marriage Act, seeks to amend the provisions of the Family Code of the Philippines to expand the definition of “presence” or “appearance” to include virtual presence.
“Virtual refers to the use of video, audio and data transmission devices that allow people from different physical locations to simulataneously communicate, see and hear each other,” the House bill read.
The bill, on the other, hand, specifically provides that “contracting parties must be physically present together in the same location.” The solemnizing officer and the witnesses may be present elsewhere.
Salo stressed that existing formal requisites shall still be complied with by the marrying couples, such as the authority of the solemnizing officer, valid marriage licenses, and seminars.
The bill further said that for marriages done virtually, “the certificate of marriage must be notarized prior to its registration with the local civil registry to ensure its authenticity and due execution, and to properly ascertain the identity” of the parties.
It also proposes virtual marriages to be allowed for Filipinos abroad, but the marriage license should be issued by the Philippine consulate and the marriage certificate should be registered with the same.
Salo assured that the proposal will not be imposed on any religion, belief or tradition. Couples will still have the say whether to get married physically or via videoconferencing, he said.
“We will not force anyone to adopt videoconferencing as a mode of getting married. We are simply saying that we give our people an option. We are simply saying that the marriage of couples who chose to tie the knot via zoom or any other videoconferencing application will be considered valid,” he emphasized.
Last Tuesday, members of the House Committee on Revision of Laws agreed to create a technical working group that will further tackle Salo’s bill, along with other measures seeking to amend the Family Code.
As of writing, a counterpart bill seeking to allow virtual marriage has yet to be filed in the Senate. The proposal has to be approved in both houses of Congress for it to be signed into law by the President.
Sought for comment, Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said several matters have to be discussed about the bill.
“There is a lot to discuss, I imagine, such as how to ensure that consent is not vitiated,” Hontiveros said in a message to Manila Bulletin.
But she said: “In principle, I support innovations to make marriage accessible to all and responsive to current challenges.”