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Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure

Volume 740: debated on Monday 19 November 2012

Motion to Present for Royal Assent

Moved By

That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

My Lords, the Measure is somewhat technical, so it may assist noble Lords if, instead of getting into the minutiae, I give something by way of background which explains that under the Marriage Act 1949, a marriage according to the rites of the Church of England normally had to take place in the parish where at least one of the parties currently lived or where one of the parties was on the church electoral roll. That was the position until 2008, but it was thought to be too limiting in modern conditions. Legislation was brought forward to extend the range of places where people could marry in church. The Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 gave people the additional right to marry in any parish with which they had a “qualifying connection”.

There are various qualifying connections. For example, a couple now have the right to marry either in a parish where the parents of one of the couple live or used to live; or in a parish where one of them was baptised; or in a parish where a parent or grandparent was married. There are a number of other qualifying connections and, without delaying your Lordships unduly, they can very helpfully be found on the Church of England’s weddings website. The website shows couples how to find churches where they can get married and provides a whole variety of information. It has proved to be very popular, and since these new arrangements have been in place, the number of weddings in church has increased.

The Measure is in two parts. Clause 1 makes a few tweaks to the 2008 Measure, which has been effectively in force for some four years. Experience has shown that there are ways in which its detailed operation can be improved. Particular practical situations sometimes arise when people want to marry, for example, where a parish does not have a parish church; where the parish church is closed for repairs; or where a number of different parishes are joined together in a single benefice. In those situations, the 1949 Marriage Act confers rights to marry in the parish churches of adjoining parishes. Clause 1 brings the 2008 Measure into line with the special provisions of the 1949 Act by applying the bundle of rights contained in the 1949 Act to those couples who wish to marry on the basis that they now have a qualifying connection with a particular place.

A helpful way of showing how the changes will be of practical help to couples might be by way of an example. A couple may want to get married near the bride’s parents’ home, but her parents’ parish church is temporarily closed for repairs and will not be available during the summer that the couple want to get married. The new measure will allow them to get married in the parish church of any of the parishes that border her parents’ parish. The other provisions in Clause 1 make similar arrangements possible in the other situations with which they are concerned. That is, if I may say so, the rather more complicated bit.

Clause 2 is rather more straightforward and concerns the publication of banns. Banns are, of course, the normal legal preliminary to marriage in church. The Marriage Act 1949 requires the form of words contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to be used when publishing banns. There is nothing in Clause 2 that will prevent the continued use of the Book of Common Prayer form, but a slightly modernised form of words, as an optional alternative to the traditional form, was considered a useful addition.

Common Worship, the current prayer book, so to speak, of the Church of England, like the Alternative Service Book before it, offers the modernised form. In terms of its legal substance, it is not any different from the traditional form; but instead of asking whether anyone knows “cause or just impediment” why the persons who are named may not marry, it asks simply whether anyone knows,

“any reason in law why they may not marry each other”.

Clause 2 will put the alternative, modernised formula on a statutory footing.

Clause 2 also alters the procedure for publishing banns to make it a little more flexible than at present. As things stand, the default position is that banns have to be published at morning service on Sundays. However, the experience of the clergy is that many couples are more likely to come to an evening service. The Measure addresses that by requiring the banns to be published at the “principal service” on Sundays, to ensure maximum publicity, but allows them additionally to be published at any other service on the same day, allowing the necessary degree of flexibility to meet the pastoral needs of the couple.

The amendments made by the Measure are all minor, common-sense improvements to existing legislation. The Measure was passed entirely without dissent in the General Synod—something one would wish for more often—and the Ecclesiastical Committee has reported and finds the Measure expedient. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.