House panel pushes for virtual marriage bill

A measure seeking to allow virtual marriage using video, audio, and data transmission devices has hurdled committee level at the House of Representatives.

In an online meeting recently, the House Committee on Revision of Laws approved the substitute bill to House Bill 7042, or the proposed Virtual Marriage Act.

The bill provides that no marriage would be valid unless essential requisites are met, such as the legal capacity of the contracting parties; consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer; and presence may either be physical or virtual.

If virtual, the contracting parties should be physically present together in the same location.

The bill defines virtual as “the use of video, audio, and data transmission devices that allow people from different physical locations to simultaneously communicate, see, and hear each other.”

Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun queried if marriages conducted via audio only would be valid.

Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo, author of the bill, said audio and video are both required for the identification of the contracting parties.

Salo proposed that the legal meaning of presence or personal appearance as an essential requisite for the validity of marriage be liberally construed to include virtual presence or presence through video conferencing, especially amid the pandemic.

This means that in a virtual marriage, the male and female spouses to be wed would be together in the same location but their presence before the solemnizing officer would be remote or virtual.

“The essence of the marriage ceremony is the personal appearance of the parties before the solemnizing officer and their declaration that they freely and willingly take each other as husband and wife,” he said. “It is respectfully proposed that the term presence and personal appearance provided in the Family Code be broadly construed to include the virtual presence.”

Salo cited how the pandemic has caused the postponement and cancellation of many wedding ceremonies because of the prohibition on mass gatherings, observance of physical distancing, and the health risks posed to everyone, particularly to the solemnizing officers who are oftentimes senior citizens.

He also noted that the Family Code took effect in 1988 when the analog means of communication was the prevalent norm and virtual presence was just a “figment of imagination.”

“Its provisions have already been overtaken by advancements in technology,” Salo said.

He added that the government has adapted to the pandemic with technology, with Congress conducting sessions and hearings virtually and the Supreme Court allowing the remote appearance and testimonies of those facing charges and detained in jail via videoconferencing.

“Overseas, technology allowed couples to tie the knot online. As reported, these were done in the States of New York and Colorado, among others,” Salo said.

Other marriage-related measures approved by the committee were the bill granting members of the House the authority to solemnize marriage; the bill authorizing provincial governors to solemnize marriages within their territorial jurisdictions; the bill providing for the regime of conjugal partnership of gains as the governing regime in the absence of a marriage settlement or when the regime agreed upon is void; and the bill allowing the foreign decree of dissolution of marriage to be registered with the Philippine Civil Registry even in the absence of a judicial recognition to that effect. (PNA)