Everything you need to know about marriage in Gabon

2 Jun 2023·21 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Gabon 01

Thousands of marriages are celebrated every year in Gabon, a country along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa. This country is quite popular for its natural attractions and wild life. Gabon is also a popular tourist country, and the high influx of foreigners is one of the reasons why marriage ceremonies performed by foreigners are so common. The two major types of marriages in the country are civil and religious, or "traditional" marriages. Other forms of marriage are also celebrated in the country, such as symbolic and secular marriages. However, these marriages held no legal grounds, as the marriage laws of the country state that only civil, matrimonial, and customary (or traditional) marriages are allowed. 

Traditional marriages can be held based on the customs in the regions where the spouses are from. Before a marriage is legalized in Gabon, both spouses are required to obtain a marriage certificate. Monogamy is the norm in the country. Most families are often nuclear, with the number of family members not exceeding five. The legal marriage age in the country used to be 18 years for male spouses and 15 years for female spouses. However, the marriage age for both male and female spouses has been equalized at the age of 18. Spouses aged 21 and above require no parental permission for marriage. 

Marriage between spouses under this age may be permitted; however, they must obtain the consent of both the father and mother. According to statistics, about 22% of girls in Gabon's marriages get married before the age of 18, and one of the major reasons behind child marriages in the country is gender inequality and poverty in some communities in the country. Over the years, there have been efforts to reduce the number of these child marriages in the country. The other sections of this article go into greater detail about the different types of marriages in Gabon and the laws that govern them.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are the most popular types of marriages in Gabon. These marriages are performed in the civil registry by authorized civil registrars and are recognized and protected under the laws of the country. The civil registrar is charged with the responsibility of performing the civil ceremony, drawing up the marriage certificate, and verifying all information provided by the couple. To begin the marriage application and registration process, the spouses are required to file a notice of marriage. 

This notice must be filed with the office of the registrar general, and there is usually a waiting period of 21 days. During this period, the registrar general’s office checks to see if there is anyone or anything that may result in the invalidity of the marriage and prevent it from happening. Common issues that may arise include consanguineous marriages or the legal marriage prohibition of one or both spouses. After the 21-day waiting period expires, the couple is required to complete an affidavit under the Marriage Act. 

The affidavit serves as additional evidence of the couple's marital status and is commissioned by the registrar. After the completion of the 21-day notice, the couple is expected to pay for their marriage certificate and choose the date they will like to perform the ceremony and get married. The chosen date must be within a period of three months from when the marriage notice timeframe is completed. One of the partners has to book a marriage date, which could fall on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. 

Generally, civil marriage ceremonies are not performed on weekends. The marriage certificate must be obtained alongside the two valid witnesses provided by the spouses. In special cases where spouses may want to get married quickly for one reason or another but are unable to wait for the 21-day period, they can inform the registrar. The registrar has the authority to waive the waiting period; however, it comes with the payment of some extra fees. 

There are various additional fees to be paid by the spouses if the marriage will be held in the registrar's office. Before a civil marriage is performed, there are checks made by concerned authorities to be sure the parties are not related to each other by blood or adoption. Also, the registrar must verify that the spouses are entering the marriage as a result of their free volition. The documents to be submitted by spouses in a civil marriage are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • Both spouses are required to provide a valid means of identification, such as a national identity card for a Gabonese and a valid passport for a foreigner.
  • Government-issued copies of birth certificates must be submitted by the partners getting married.
  • Proof of residence This mostly applies to foreign spouses, and there must be evidence that they have been living in Gabon before the marriage date.
  • Divorce or death certificate This only applies to formerly married spouses who have legally terminated a previous marriage. It must be noted that the official language in Gabon is French. Marriages are conducted in this language, and documents are also written in the same manner. This implies that foreign spouses must ensure all the documents submitted are translated by an accredited translator. The documentation obtained from foreign countries must include an apostille to show the authorization stamp.

Customary and religious marriages

Customary and religious marriages are recognized and protected under the laws of Gabon. These types of marriages have legal grounds on their own, and spouses do not need to conduct a civil marriage before their customary or religious marriage has legal status. Basically, customary marriages are performed based on the customs and traditions of the spouses in their region or community, whereas religious marriages are performed according to the principles laid out by the religious faith both spouses are under. 

The majority of the people living in Gabon practice Christianity, making up about 79 percent of the population. The rest of the citizens are either Muslims (about 12 percent) or irreligious. The Roman Catholic Church is the biggest denomination in the country, followed by the Protestant Church. Generally, Catholic churches and other denominations have their own specific laws and conditions that must be followed by both spouses before a marriage is allowed. 

The spouses must attend a prenuptial class conducted by the priest to display how ready they are for marriage. Furthermore, the priest has the authority to determine whether the spouses can get married in the church. He can decline the marriage and prevent it from happening if there are any issues with the conditions or eligibility of the couple.

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Marriage traditions in Gabon

Exchange of Vows

Most marriages performed in Gabon are celebrated in the church. The church service usually takes place in the morning, and it begins with a procession. During the ceremony, the bride and groom share vows, professing how much they mean to each other and how their love will last forever. A priest may allow the spouses to draw up their own personalized vows or use the one provided by the church.

Wedding Reception 

Wedding receptions in Gabon are usually huge and lavish. Marriages are very important events in the lives of Gabonese nationals, and they often go all out by ensuring the best service is delivered during the reception. The bride and groom usually dance and celebrate with their guests, and during the party, the maid of honor and best man may give toasts and say one or two things about the couple and wish them the best in their marriage.

Gift giving 

A Gabonese marriage is never complete without the exchange of gifts. Even before the actual wedding day, the couple will have started receiving gifts from their families, friends, and various acquaintances. During the reception, guests usually wrap their gifts and present them to the spouses. Some guests may choose to give their gift in the form of cash.

Same-sex and polygamous marriages

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Gabon; however, same-sex sexual activity is legal. Gabonese are allowed to be homosexual, but this results in legal challenges that are not faced by non-LGBT residents. Also, households headed by same-sex couples do not enjoy any legal protections under the law and are subject to discrimination.

Polygamy is legal according to the penal code of Gabon. Even though this type of marriage is allowed, most of the people living in this country practice monogamy. Also, the laws of Gabon allow men to change their relationship status from monogamy to polygamy in the future; women do not enjoy this freedom.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Like any other African country, there are certain laws guiding the act of marriage under the Constitution of Gabon. These laws also supersede religious and customary principles, as all persons getting married in Gabon are expected to follow the civil laws as laid out by the country's Constitution. Foreigners can contract marriage in Gabon provided they are eligible to contract marriage in their home country; if either of the couple is not permitted to enter into marriage in his or her home country, he or she would not be allowed to get married in Gabon. Both foreigners and nationals must be capable of contracting marriage, and they must prove that they are single at the time of marriage. 

The minimum legal age for marriage in Gabon is 18 years for men and 15 years for women; only permission obtained from the presiding judge of the Supreme Court or the president of the country can be regarded as valid for minors who wish to enter into marriage. Couples who have attained the age of 21 may contract marriage without parental consent, which means persons under the age of 21 must obtain parental consent before marriage can take place. The law allows couples to decide between a monogamous or polygamous marriage; however, they are only allowed to do this at the time of the first marriage. If spouses do not express their preference for the type of marriage they want, it is assumed that the couple chose polygamy.

If a monogamous marriage is chosen, couples are allowed to change from monogamy to polygamy. This law is the main reason for the prevalence of polygamy in the country. It is important to note that it is not only the husband who is allowed to marry more than one wife; the woman is also allowed to marry more than one husband, which means the practice of polyandry is allowed in the country. Couples can contract civil marriages, religious marriages, or customary marriages; they are all recognized as legally binding. If couples contract customary or religious marriages, they are not obligated to register them. Only a civil marriage certificate obtained in Gabon is globally recognized; certificates of marriage obtained through other forms of marriage are only recognized within the country. 

Levirate marriages are practiced in the country; under this customary practice, a widow enters into marriage with the brother of her late husband. Both parties must give their full and voluntary consent to marriage before it can take place. Couples must be in a stable state of mind to be able to contract marriage. Anyone who conducts a marriage with the use of force or violence or marries a minor is liable to face a jail term of up to 5 years. There is no law that recognizes marriage between couples of the same sex; homosexual relations are legal within the country, but they are prohibited from contracting marriage as it goes against the definition of marriage, which is only recognized between a man and a woman. 

Gabon allows free unions, also known as de facto unions, between people who live together as husband and wife but are not legally married. All foreigners and nationals are required to provide valid documentation required by law before marriage can take place. Couples who contract a monogamous marriage must not be in any legally binding marriage; both parties must be single, and if they have been married in the past, they must provide proof that such a marriage has been dissolved.

Rights

Both the husband and wife have equal rights in marriage, but women face a number of restrictions due to societal cultural beliefs. In Gabon, both the husband and wife have the right to open a bank account; however, a woman is required to inform her husband about the account, and he must give permission before she is allowed to use the account for debit transactions. Under employment rights, both the husband and wife have the right to work and earn a living without facing any discrimination based on their marital status or gender; however, a number of limitations are placed on certain jobs that women are allowed to do. 

Both the husband and wife have the right to confer their nationality on their children if they are born outside the country or if the spouse is a foreigner. They possess the right to change, retain, or renounce their nationality. The husband and wife have the right to initiate and finalize divorce; if the motion for a divorce is on mutual or specific grounds, they are both entitled to receive custody of the children. The parent who has the best interest of the children at heart is often granted custody of the children, while the other spouse is granted visitation rights. However, since many women are married customarily, they often forfeit the right to gain custody of the children. 

The husband and wife have the right to be recognized as the legal guardians of the children, and they are permitted to exercise parental authority when necessary. Women have the same rights as men to inherit; at the demise of one of the spouses, the surviving husband or wife is entitled to the property and assets of the deceased spouse. They both have the right to own property separately or jointly, depending on which marital regime the marriage was contracted under.

Costs

Marriage is considered one of the most important events in a man's life. Couples easily get swept up in the emotions that come from this ceremony, and they often end up spending more than they had budgeted for marriage. An average wedding ceremony in Gabon costs around 500,000 CFA; this cost can easily skyrocket depending on the pockets of the couple and their willingness to spend on the ceremony. 

The practice of paying bride price is also commonplace in Gabon; therefore, not only is the groom often responsible for shouldering the cost of the entire ceremony, he is also responsible for the payment of the dowry, which is often expensive. Couples can easily hire the services of a wedding planner, which would definitely come at a cost. 

Despite the fact that the wedding planner is in charge of effectively managing the ceremony, couples should ensure they have a thorough discussion with the wedding planner to ensure they have the best experience possible. All expenses are very important, even the smallest miscellaneous expenses; therefore, proper planning should be put into the wedding ceremony.

Duties

The household responsibilities and duties of couples in Gabon are not equally divided. The wife is expected to be supportive at all times, while the husband is obligated to be the family's sole provider. The woman has a duty to be a good housekeeper; she is expected to cook, clean, and take care of her husband, the children, and even visitors. The husband is responsible for making decisions about the family's health and well-being. 

The woman is also involved in this process; she has a duty to provide good counsel to her husband and ensure that whatever decision is made is in the best interests of the family as a whole. They are both obligated to show love, respect, and loyalty to one another and to also provide mutual support and assistance when needed. 

She has a duty to make herself available to her husband at all times, respect her husband's opinions, and ensure that no disrespect comes to the family name. The husband and wife must ensure that the children have a proper upbringing, both moral and educational, and they both must provide a conducive environment for the growth and development of the children.

Conclusion 

Gabon only recognizes civil and customary marriages. There are various ethnicities and communities in Gabon, and they all have different ways of celebrating marriage. The minimum marriage age of 18 must not be exceeded except in special cases where there is authorization from the judge.

Gabon is majorly dominated by Christians, and the marriage traditions are usually a mix of religious and customary ceremonial rites. Often, a church service is held first thing in the morning, followed by a reception that runs from noon until late at night or whenever the couple pleases. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Gabon.

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