When Geoffrey Ongori and Annah Gesare held a colourful church wedding three years ago, they were looking to spend a happy life together. But the wedding lasted only five days as one key ingredient was missing.
Ongori, as it turned out, denied Gesare conjugal rights in the first days of marriage. And early this year, in a rare case, a court in Gucha ruled that with the absence of sex, the marriage was never properly consummated. It therefore, allowed Gesara to divorce her husband, saying the union between the two was null.
“On the ground of non-consummation, the petition must succeed. Apparently, the relationship between the couple went from bad to worse and they could not in all probability live as husband and wife,” said Ogembo resident magistrate Richard Koech.
During the hearing of the case, it emerged that not even the intervention of their church pastor could save the marriage.
Gesare, who filed the case, told the court that her husband had failed in his conjugal duties and attempted to delegate the same to a third party without her consent. She asked the court to compel him to return her personal effects including her wedding gown.
However, Ongori denied the accusations.
“I am a nursery school teacher. Prior to our wedding, we had been engaged in courtship and I had disclosed all material facts to the respondent. After the wedding, I moved in with the respondent but it is like I was staying with another woman,” said Gesare.
Gesare told the court that after their wedding on September 12, 2007 at Nyabonge Seventh Day Adventist church, the respondent could not sleep with her, citing an allergy.
She decided to be patient but when he suggested that a third party carry out his duties, she complained to her female relatives who, instead of helping, abused her.
“He told me to wait for three days but afterwards, he got quiet. I got married so as to get children but I realised this desire was impossible with the respondent,” she further said.
She sought help from Pastor Lazarus Sagini, who presided over their wedding, but his attempts to reconcile the couple failed.
During the hearing of the suit, Gesare told the court that in one of the meetings called by the presiding pastor, she and Ongori were asked to consummate their marriage before witnesses.
She was later advised to seek legal redress after the respondent failed to turn up in the reconciliation meetings called by the pastor.
“I met the couple and they told me they were in love and that they had informed their parents of their intention to marry. I set the date and presided over their wedding. I was to learn a week later that they had separated,” said Pastor Sagini.
The pastor said he believed the two should stick to their vows and live as husband and wife till death.
“When I married, I had intentions to stay with Gesare till death. I am still ready for her to come back,” he said.
Ongori denied being asked to have sex in church saying it was immoral, adding that they were told to do it at home in the presence of the best couple.
The court ruling meant that the respondent was to collect the bride price paid on account of the marriage less one cow to meet wedding expenses. He was also to return the petitioner’s personal effects and bear costs of the suit. Lawyers interviewed say while such cases are rare in courts, it does not necessarily mean they do not occur.
“Such cases are rare. While non-consummation is a very strong ground for divorce, many shy away from courts for fear of stigma. Many suffer in silence for fear of possible ridicule in society,” says Julius Ondika, a Kisii based advocate.
He says the situation is further compounded by the fact that most African societies allow for another man to take up the conjugal duties of a man who fails to rise to the occasion.
Pastor Robert Motari, a marriage counsellor in the Seventh Adventist Church concedes that such cases are rare but says the condition is treatable medically.
“In the church, we counsel couples intending to marry. We encourage them to reveal as much as possible, during courtship including their weaknesses and strengths. This man should have discussed his problem with his bride,” he observes.
Till death do us apart?
Motari however says it is possible the man may have maintained celibacy until marriage but insists that according to church teachings, nothing should separate a couple.
“During the wedding, a couple vows that nothing will part them till death. So if a deformity or weakness comes up, they should find a solution together instead of parting,” he avers.
Musa Mokogoti, a church elder in Gucha, says erectile dysfunction that may lead to non-consummation of a marriage is not a new thing.
“These cases are rare today because people don’t want to talk about them. In the past, such cases existed. Some people are naturally impotent while others could have some problems. Elders tried all solutions before delegating the duty to a close relative,” he affirms.
Mokogoti says should one realize they have such a problem, discussing it openly with the spouse will help.
“During courtship, couples are taken through church teachings and are encouraged to discuss their personal life. We are aware that it is hard to be faithful until marriage these days and that is why sex education has been introduced,” he adds.
He, however, maintains it is impossible for one to be ignorant of their sexual activity so they should be aware if they have a problem.