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My marriages aren’t the state’s business It's time the clerics told the registrars what to do with their spreadsheets

Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty

Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty


May 20, 2021   4 mins

Three couples gather to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary in JB Priestley’s When We Were Married, only to discover, to their horror, that they hadn’t actually been properly married. A clerical error had taken place, the paperwork wasn’t in order. Cue much Victorian hand wringing about their having been “living in sin” for 25 years (the play was written in 1934). Oh, what will the neighbours think?

It’s a comedy, of course. But the play isn’t just mocking the moral values of the time. It’s also satirising the idea that they weren’t properly married in the first place. After all, they had made their vows before God, they had lived faithfully together as husband and wife, and the priest had said: “That which God has joined together let no man put asunder”. From a theological perspective, they were married. No clerical error could change any of that.

Yet marriage has always been the site of a vexed tug of war between the church and the state. One of the accounts of the death of Bishop Valentine was that he was executed for carrying out ‘illegal’ marriages. Emperor Claudius believed that the reason he was having a hard time recruiting soldiers to the Roman army was because of the attachment of potential recruits to their wives and families. So he banned marriage. Valentine became a martyr to romance because he believed that the authority to marry came from God not from the Emperor, so he ignored Claudius’ instruction and, as a result, was beheaded. This may be an overly dramatic comparison, but the basic principle remains the same. As the preface to the Church of England marriage service puts it: “Marriage is a gift of God in creation” – not a gift of Claudius or the local Registrar.

The latest bone of contention in this longstanding tussle surrounds the issue of marriage registers. For generations, a Church of England wedding ceremony would conclude with the signing of the registers. Large green books would be laid out, a fancy fountain pen produced, and the priest, the happy couple and their witnesses would look up for the camera, flowers strategically placed in the background. Then I would hand over a certificate to the best man for him to keep safely. This was proof they had been married.

But from now on, I will print a form from the web, everyone will sign it, the couple will take it to the Register Office who load the marriage on their database and then issue proof of marriage. There are good things about the new law, long lobbied for by the church. These days, for example, it’s not just the bride and groom’s father who gets a mention on the official documentation, but both father and mother. But what is less welcome is the state’s increasing involvement in what is fundamentally a religious ceremony.

I do already have beef with the Register Office. It dates back to 2016, when the full consequences of the nasty 2014 Immigration Act were laid bare to me. From the Middle Ages onwards, the traditional legal preliminaries for getting married were the reading of banns. For three consecutive Sunday mornings, the priest would read out the names of those wanting to get married and declare “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it.” The 2014 Act added a new stage for those who are non-EU nationals – in effect, and certainly in my parish, predominantly people of colour. They would have to go to the Register Office first to let them know they were going to get married.

This was why, on a Saturday morning in August 2014, one of my loveliest parishioners, resident here for 14 years, was turfed out of his bed by six Home Office heavies and dragged off to a detention centre in Dorset. It was several months before his immigration status could be sorted out, months which he spent languishing in a former prison, the Verne, notorious for its violence.

He is now married and happy, thank God, and still living in the parish. But I won’t ever forgive the system for turning me, his priest, into a Home Office informant. Last Sunday, the police turned up at my church, to check out our socially distanced after-church tea drinking. This new closer involvement of the Register Office in the sacrament feels even more intrusive.

So here’s a suggestion. Why doesn’t the state get out of the marriage business completely? The invention of Civil Partnerships makes this so much easier. Churches, mosques and synagogues could do the God bit — let’s call it “marriage”. And the state — through the Register Office — can do the Civil Partnerships bit. Those who get married in places of worship can apply for Civil Partnership status, if they so wish, and whatever tax or immigration/citizenship advantages the state wants to attach to marriage they can do so through Civil Partnerships. This way the state and the church (mosque, synagogue etc.) can happily co-exist without religious ideology affecting the state and vice versa.

I am generally a fan of the established church. The hybridity of church and state has several advantages for both parties – the Church of England having a representative role in the constitution that allows a valuable voice to speak into debates in Parliament, for example. And the Queen holds it all together. The coronation is the very epitome of the church/state alliance and the epicenter of our historic constitution.

But when parts of the establishment no longer work well for both parties, it is worth reviewing. In the United States, the separation of church and state was set up not to protect the state from the church – as is often presumed these days – but to protect the church from the state, to guarantee the freedom of religion. That is a principle worth protecting over here as well.

Fully separating marriage and civil partnerships in law would allow religious organisations to marry people according to their own values. And though I strongly believe that gay marriage should take place in churches, that is a decision that the church should make for itself.

Civil Partnerships would carry all of the moral, social and legal weight that marriage did in the past. And marriage would be a purely religious ceremony, without state involvement, which would concentrate the minds of those getting married on their union under God.

As things stand, these new arrangements continue the trend to turn marriage into a bureaucratic transaction, rather than a covenantal promise. The more the state gets involved, the more this glorious religious service feels as soulless as taking out a mortgage. It’s high time the clerics told the registrars what to do with their government spreadsheets. In the name of St Valentine and all that is holy, can we please have our ceremony back.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago

I’m not sure this would end up having the desired effect.
It’s not that it’s an unworkable proposal, but the outcomes would be functionally the same. The couple might be married in the church with no kerfuffle, but would still have to do all the proper legal things to have the protections of marriage. It would be entirely possible to deport one of the spouses after they had been married religiously, and there would be recourse.
In places where there already exists this kind of separation, many religious groups, like the Catholics, won’t normally allow priests to marry couples who have not already taken care of the legalities, because they know that without them, there are real vulnerabilities, especially for the woman. Married in the eyes of the church but with no claim to property, to death benefits, and so on, is not something that churches want to enable.
The fact is that while Christian marriage is a religious ceremony, it’s also understood as woven into the social and even economic fabric of society, because it’s a wholistic state, one that is about not only the soul and mind but also the body and the functioning of the family unit in society, and even the extension of the family unit into the future..

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

Realised I was replying to MKJ instead of to the actual article. See far far below for what I meant to say.
Your point about the dangers in separating religious and legal aspects of marriage is well made. It equally applies to religious “divorces” and “annulments”.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Alastair Herd
Alastair Herd
3 years ago

Laying my cards on the table, I’m a conservative Christian. But I think that the state should be involved in marriage. I actually think it makes even more sense than education. The married family is the stable block upon which a society can be build and one of the most important common grace gifts. Without marriage you effectively deny people stability in their home life. Why would the state not have a role in promoting the most fundamental part of society?

We are drifting towards a state where marriage doesn’t mean anything (no-fault divorce), but it’s supposed to be a life-long covenant that allows men and women to know they have a partner for life (and therefore to have to work on that rather than just moving on to the new thing) and for children to know Mummy and Daddy will still be there when they get home.

The issue isn’t that state being involved in marriage, the issue is the state not understanding what marriage is in the first place.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Alastair Herd

I think Mr Fraser is very naive. Several actors have openly admitted to marrying someone only so they can stay in this country. There has been cases of the same person marrying multiple times. Marriage is a legal contract-otherwise why would you need to get divorced-as Mr Fraser has done himself-if you wish to marry again. People from other religions have discovered they are not legally married and so don’t need to be legally supported.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Yes, divorce should never have been allowed.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Henry V111 wouldn’t agree with you.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

He never divorced. Annulled, beheaded, died, annulled beheaded, survived.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

He probably just never got round to it.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Yes he did. Henry VIII became legally the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. I realise you are probably a staunch (as they say) Catholic but you might realise that Church doctrine changes (it is after all a man-made institution) such as for example the rules on clerical marriage.

Henry’s presumption made seem absurd to us, but there was a real legal issue about whether his dead brother Arthur had consummated his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and Henry seems to have been convinced that it hadn’t. The Pope by the way, only decided that he was infallible in all religious matters in 1870.

The concept of annulment seems in this context to be almost pure casuistry, it has precisely the same effect as divorce. Who were incidentally these terrible corrupt Catholic priests who performed the what turned out to be the bogus marriages in the first place?

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Fisher
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

The Pope usually allowed monarch’s marriages to end if there were either no children or in this case no male heirs ( Henry 11 ‘s wife was previously married)-Henry got caught up in the politics of the day. The Pope was held hostage by Charles V-who happened to be Catherine of Aragon’s uncle. If Henry & Catherine had remained married they could have married Mary to another royal & her children would have continued the line. As the way it worked out none of Henry’s children had heirs , whole thing bit waste of time really.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alastair Herd

You’ve obviously contradicted yourself? It’s surely been terribly damaging for ‘state not understanding what marriage is’ to be actively attacking the proposition ‘for children to know Mummy and Daddy will still be there when they get home.’

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Alastair Herd

Do you really think that this website is for the likes of you with that surname?

Alastair Herd
Alastair Herd
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

That’s just my surname! My family are Scots.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Alastair Herd

You could have gone on a website called McHerd or MacHerd, and nobody would have thought any the less of you. But no, UnHerd it had to be. Why? Why? It just seems so inappropriate.

Craig Bishop
Craig Bishop
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

That’s a very backwards, and dare I say, craven, way of looking at things, Richard.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago
Reply to  Alastair Herd

Mr. Fraser’s argument is only necessary in a society that has given up on God. Will changing the terms on a few pieces of paper fix that? It seems more like rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs.

Last edited 3 years ago by Brian Villanueva
James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago

One of the first acts of the new Communist government in Russia was to change the legal definition of marriage. It changed the law such that a marriage could formed merely by writing names in a registration book. The marriage could be dissolved by drawing a line though the the written names. It was all very consistent with Leftist ideology that has always found traditional marriage too restrictive, and too inherently conservative. The change of law had all the predictable consequences, and within brief order, the Communist state changed the law back to its original form.

Now, I suppose you could say that Christian marriage was a subset of the new marriage law put into effect by the Communist Gov’t as well. Theoretically a Christian couple in the Soviet Union (assuming they hadn’t been shot by Lenin) could find a priest (assuming he hadn’t been shot as well) and do things the old fashioned way. But that hardly has any standing in law. The name you attach to a relationship doesn’t matter. The environment and ritual don’t matter. Who officiates doesn’t matter. What matters is what is enforceable in law because that is what determines how the institution performs the function it was intended to perform. If you change the legal structure of the relationship, you change how the institution shapes the behaviour of those who enter it.

What is important is that which is legally enforceable in law. That is why those who would change the definitions are so willing to allow the church to maintain her own. What the church determines in its private sphere is unimportant. It has no legal standing. Those who would change the law realise this. Indeed, that is the whole point.

Last edited 3 years ago by James Rowlands
Peter LR
Peter LR
3 years ago

Banns were fine when folk lived in village communities and everyone knew one another; they are now for emotion and show only. Under this suggested scheme Mr Bigamy marries in one church, separates without divorcing and marries someone else in a different church. This is why we need national records. I once met someone who was paid to “marry” immigrants so they could get settled status. Marriage is far too important to the health of society to be trifled with. And of course, historically at the beginning of human society, marriages were social agreements witnessed to by the community and never involved priests.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

I think you mean, ”And of course, historically at the beginning of human society, marriages were social agreements witnessed to by the community and therefore inevitably involved the person recognised by that community as fulfilling the role of their priest’ ?

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

I’m not sure that is correct. Roman marriages I think were performed by the couple themselves making a declaration in front of witnesses. I don’t think a priest was involved.
I expect Mr Stanhope will be along shortly to put me right.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

And of course dreadfully unfair and upsetting for someone to find they are not , as they believed, legally married. Mr Fraser is acting as a sort of marriage solicitor-the Archbishop of Canterbury finally issued an announcement when H & M claimed they were married twice, as that would be illegal.

Harry B
Harry B
3 years ago

The state should absolutely be involved in regulating marriage. Getting married changes your legal status, giving all sorts of rights and responsibilities that you do not have if unmarried. There is an excellent reason for this. Marriage encourages and represents the decision and intention for two people to stick around. It doesn’t always work out. But the act of marriage provides clarity and intent, a signal that removes ambiguity. Everyone knows the plan. The stats show it works far more than it doesn’t. Without marriage, family breakdown would be the norm and the state – i.e. us – would pay the bill, as it does and we do. And by regulating marriage, the state can protect couples and children by regulating divorce. This is eminently reasonable.
Weddings on the other hand should be none of the state’s business. So if this is what you’re saying I agree. The Law Commission has just completed a consultation to change the rules for weddings so that everyone preregisters intent to marry with the state and can then have whatever ceremony they like with a registered celebrant. Actually if they do it as the French do and register as a civil marriage, couples don’t even need the celebrant. Either of these get the state out of weddings and will be a big improvement on what we have now, where the state regulates the building and the celebrant. This encourages price ramping and therefore discourages marriage and commitment on grounds of cost

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
3 years ago

In 1975, my fiancĂ©, Paul, and I were married. As we were both at Oxford, we decided to get married in Paul’s college chapel (New College); however, it wasn’t licensed for weddings. So we declared our intention to marry in the Oxford Registry Office, and three weeks before the actual wedding, were legally united by the registrar, two friends acting as witnesses. There was no problem; the only slightly odd thing has been that we celebrate our anniversaries three weeks after the official date of our wedding.
I can’t see why this shouldn’t be the normal procedure in this country – it wasn’t difficult!

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
3 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Isn’t this what Roman Catholics do in the UK?

When i lived in in a village in Holland in the mid 70s, it was normal to see a whole wedding party descend on the Registry Office and then move over to the Church. It was rather fun to watch.

In other words, the Registry was the legal bit and the Church, the religious one.

In light of the Archbishop of Canterbury needing to publically explain that a certain couple was only married legally once – as the Church cannot marry them twice – and that that was in the Church, does this imply that, at present, a pre-married couple cannot have a church wedding ceremony? Or was it that a certain couple were claming TWO church weddings? I am unfamiliar with the CoE/State Registry regulstions.

Last edited 3 years ago by Susannah Baring Tait
Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
3 years ago

I, too, like the idea of a legal Permanent Conjugal Partnership, to be registered with the state. And for those who are churched to be married in the rites of the church, or the Elvis Las Vegas Chapel, as they prefer. The State’s interest in marriage is essentially property and parental rights. Marriage is not, after all, a sacrament performed by a priest on laypeople, the two consenting parties plight their troth in front of witnesses, a man of God and a sacred piece of furniture which is unlikely to be mistaken for a coffee table, as someone once wrote. It is about obtaining the blessing of inward and spiritual grace, of consecrating intentions, of adumbrating the relationship between God and the Church, and despite the “worldly goods” phrase, it is not about property. The State should have no interest then. Never thought I’d say it, but the French have it right, here. A registry service, then a religious ceremony (not necessarily Christian) if one desires. This also allows those who know people who consider themselves “married” but are not male and female, to refer to those life partners as “his/her spouse”. Correct, graceful and honest. They are only married in the faith once. The Registry Office is a matter of signing a legal conjugal contract. Render unto Caesar…

Last edited 3 years ago by Liz Walsh
Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
3 years ago
Reply to  Liz Walsh

Agreed!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

They were claiming two church weddings-both conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury , no less. This would mean the second marriage was a ‘mock’ marriage , under the eyes of the Queen , who is technically head church. As Meghan was catholic & had been married before-she became C of E in order to be allowed to be married ( by the Queen’s authority) in churchso this was particularly rude and disrepectful to everyone who organized ( & paid) for the church wedding

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Some frieneds of mine also did this in ’74. He arrived at the registry office in a suit and bow tie (so that a regular tie didn’t fall on patients when he leaned over them) and his bride arrived in a muddy denim bib and brace outfit straight from the allotment!

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago

‘a valuable voice to speak into debates in Parliament, for example’ well go on then, give us an actual example ? !

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“Last Sunday, the police turned up at my church, to check out our socially distanced after-church tea drinking.”
Next time run them off the property.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
3 years ago

This is pretty much what happens in France. The mayor marries a couple, that is the registered marriage for legal purposes. Then you can go and have whatever other ceremony you please.
it also provides some measure of protection against forced marriage, which is not always the case with religious institutions.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
3 years ago

It does strike me, in this day and age, that a religious ceremony has any status in law. I have nothing against marriage, I’m all for it, in all it’s many and varied forms, it’s just that when it “potentially” confers so much it shouldn’t have any status in law. It’s purely a private ceremony.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

That’s largely Giles point , isn’t it?

William MacDougall
William MacDougall
3 years ago

It’s been true for a very long time that some people had separate civil and religious ceremonies; I’ve known some. The Church in which they had a religious marriage might not have been registered for example. So the situation you want is perfectly possible already, and happens in many other countries all the time. I think it might be an improvement, especially as religious law on ending a marriage is different from civil law in many faiths.

Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
3 years ago

Surely the State’s interest in marriage is all about financial analytics? The calculation of pension and welfare entitlements are determined by someone’s marriage status. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Wales if they do adopt a basic income policy on an experimental basis… I’d hate to think that we ever return to an age where single people are marginalised and problematised by local authorities for living independently on the grounds that they aren’t cost-efficient. Priorities have a habit of changing from one decade to another, after all. And while bigger geo-political concerns about population, climate change and diminishing global water supplies tend to occupy the minds of centralists, the practical logistics of housing people invariably comes down to money.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago

This seems an excellent proposal, though probably far too logical for this country.

We muddled along making various incremental changes to civil marriage until we introduced the, to me, very welcome category of civil partnership in 2004. This gave gay people in committed relationships all the practical legal rights and recognition that marriage does, which addressed the real injustices that previously existed. I have however absolutely no wish to be ‘married’ nor call my partner the cringe-making term, for someone of the same sex, ‘husband’. (Is someone then the ‘wife’?)

We used to think when we were younger and more radical, that the concept of marriage came with a load of historical baggage about property ownership and the lack of any rights for wives, which we did not want to emulate.

But I realise that after a political campaign which framed this as as a ‘rights’ issue that many of my soppy ‘co-sexuals’, who had rather incoherent views on the matter, did like the idea of ‘marrying’. (However in my experience most of them were not so keen on the sexual fidelity bit
. ).

People also seem to like the ‘romance’, however hypocritical, of marrying in church (as well as, bizarrely to me, the pre-covid fashion of getting married in exotic locations that have nothing at all to do with their lives). In other words, making perhaps too great an emphasis on the wedding / celebration rather than the relationship.

Then between 2004 and 2018 we managed to arrive at the ludicrous situation whereby same-sex couples could engage in either civil partnership or marriage, but the latter was actually prohibited to couples of the opposite sex. Many straight people also dislike the concept or at least the terminology of marriage, perhaps for similar historic reasons. Fortunately this ‘anomaly’ (if so it was) has now finally been removed, although only after a court case.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

“Why doesn’t the state get out of the marriage business completely? â€œ
Is that possible when you have a state church?

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago

Yes, Annette, it is. Anything is possible for short term political gain. There’s no level at which the law has to make sense. In relation to marriage, for example, ‘Same sex’ marriage ( ontologically impossible) was legislated. It begged the question ‘what about annulment?’. They simply legislated that same sex marriages could not be annulled. In so doing , they made absolutely clear that, since a same sex marriage could not, unlike real marriage , be in a state of ‘non existence’, same sex marriage could not therefore be in a ‘state of existence’. Nevertheless, we are all compelled by that law to PRETEND that same sex marriage is the same as marriage, except, by that law, for the state church, Giles’ church, which is itself banned , yes, by the very same law from performing same sex marriages! Easy, if you have the necessary disregard for hard truths

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  J StJohn

Surely same sex marriage is only “ontologically” impossible if you have already defined marriage as not same-sex”? It is, in principle, possible to conceive of a marriage between two or more individuals who commit to a long-term stable relationship, form a household and family, engage in sxual intimacy (possibly even to the exclusion of others), and raise kids. These attributes are arguably more fundamental to marriage than the gender of the participants.
And the idea that a marriage can only include two people is not the historic definition in the Judeo-Christian tradition – Jacob and King David being notable counterexamples.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
3 years ago

Not everyone who marries in Britain is Christian these days.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

Fully separating marriage and civil partnerships in law would allow religious organisations to marry people according to their own values.

So presumably polygamy would be fine then?
I realise that we have de facto polygamy in the UK and other Western countries. It is a big step to openly sanction it, though.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

Polygamy would become a matter for the state to decide through the democratic process, rather than being a matter for religious groups.
I’m not convinced polygamy is a good idea, but nor am I convinced it should be decided by priestly decree.

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago

‘… and the priest had said: “That which God has joined together let no man put asunder”.’ [Emphasis added.]
Minister, I think. Although the script consistently refers to the officiating cleric as a “parson”, it is clear that the problem was that they were married prior to the commencement of the Marriage Act 1898, in a Non-Conformist chapel, without the local Superintendent Registrar being in attendance.
And it’s When We Are Married.

Ian Standingford
Ian Standingford
3 years ago

Seems we’re going to get married twice, like you-know-who did…..

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
3 years ago

As the origin of marriage was to attach men to the children they fathered, in the absence of DNA testing this was probably the best way to ensure that fathers supported their children, and also their wives when to be married meant a woman was unable to be employed in, for example, teaching or nursing.
Our situation now is utterly different, there is no reason to make some children legitimate, with more legal rights, and others illegitimate. It is also somewhat unreasonable to expect spouses to support each other if one becomes unable to work in paid employment. Many a marriage has foundered on financial disagreements, and many people have regretfully found themselves grossly out of pocket having been fooled that marriage is about love, when it is about the law! Couples need to make appropriate insurance and property arrangements rather than relying on the state to do it for them.
I wanted a church wedding without the register signing bit, but this is currently not possible, I’m with you on that Giles!

Last edited 3 years ago by Alison Wren
wjwarren86
wjwarren86
3 years ago

Small point- it’s the officiating minister who is legally responsible for returning the marriage document to the registry office..best not give it to the best man to lose when he sends his morning suit back to moss bros..

paul.andrew.dean
paul.andrew.dean
3 years ago

I’m in agreement. There should be state marriage, Christian marriage, Muslim marriage, Hindu marriage etc. We are definitely in a post Christian, multi cultural society and while the establishment of the church of England is still good in some respects, marriage is one aspect where state and religions should part. Most people with religious marriage would also register a state marriage, but at least the different meanings would be clear.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
3 years ago

You’re probably right about all that. There is a bigger question, though – how many people getting married in Church actually believe in God?
It’s all very well talking about the marriage as a religious ceremony, but how many couples standing there actually believe that they are doing so in the sight of God?
Funerals are interesting. I am at the age where funerals are more commonplace than weddings. When the hymns are sung, they are sung mechanically, when the words and tunes are remembered. They are hardly sung with enthusiasm or conviction. I think most people only see the inside of a church when they attend funerals and marriages.
Do you understand why there has been this decline?

Last edited 3 years ago by Kremlington Swan
Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

“So here’s a suggestion. Why doesn’t the state get out of the marriage business completely?”

Given that the Church only got into the marriage business rather late in the day (Council of Trent, I believe) and then only because it realised that there was money to be made, I would prefer the State to be in charge. After all, if you are going to let priests, rabbis and – horror – imams make up the rules, some people (women mostly) are going to be severly disadvantaged, as muslim women are now if they are dim or uneducated enough to go for only an islamic ceremony. At least giving the State a monopoly would level the playing field.

By the way, I know that Giles has problems with written English, but when I read “These days, for example, it’s not just the bride and groom’s father who gets a mention on the official documentation” I was forced to wonder how often in his church he marries couples who share a father.

Last edited 3 years ago by Fred Atkinstalk
Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
3 years ago

The State provides the legal protection should the marriage fall apart. The church provides God’s blessing. Time I think for the church to be removed from the legal side of things.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago

Surely the problem here [Giles’ beef with the registry office] is not the involvement of the state in marriage, but the repressive steps the state has taken, in the name of a hostile environment (for the triumph of evil it is merely necessary that good people comply)? Including the well-documented overuse of detention in “immigration” cases.
Removing state involvement in marriage would have left Giles personally uninvolved in the incident of the “Home Office heavies” in the night time, but such excesses would still be triggered by other events. I’m not sure Giles really would be happy with that – I hope not, anyway.

I have two further asides.
Firstly, before the 2014 immigration act, the C of E was privileged in that respect – additional immigration formalities and documents already had to be applied for and verified if a marriage was to take place in any other place of worship, or a registry office. You (and I) may not see the need for such officious zealotry, but the government had already decreed it for everyone else.
Secondly, there is a case to be made that the church could leave marriage to the state, rather than the other way around. This would avoid the vexed question (for the church) of what to do about gay, transgender or multiple-partner marriages. But I guess giving up on control of marriage is a bigger deal if you have a high-church Anglo-Catholic attachment to more than two sacraments (and you include marriage as one of them, and believe that Christ somehow instituted that sacrament).

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Raoul De Cambrai
Raoul De Cambrai
3 years ago

Giles Fraser would say that, wouldn’t he (as dear Mandy R-D once said). He’s in the Church, after all. The Church only began to get involved in marriage around the first millennium when it was looking round for ways to increase its control over people. Up till then people would get married without the Church being involved.
One could validly take the opposite viewpoint, and say why not kick the Church out, and have the state involved instead. As it happens, the state has to be involved in marriage because of things like tax and benefits, and the Church these days is involved because people like to have their marriage blessed by the Church. Both institutions can abuse their power, but it doesn’t stop there being a need for some kind of registration in the society we form part of when people living together have shared ownership of property.
It’s unfortunate that the state can abuse its power, such as in the case Giles Fraser mentions. That is down to the kind of power that the state chooses to exert, and with the kind of government we have currently we can all kinds of abuses.(Hostile environments haven’t gone away, especially with a Home Secretary like the present one. Perhaps he should turn his ire more specifically to those people who besmirch the very idea of good government.
His implication that religious institutions are blameless in their treatment of marriage is disingenuous, to put it politely. What about the difficulties people have faced if they wanted to marry someone outside their own denomination (something that still goes on)? Or to separate and perhaps take a different partner? In many cases the “sinner’s” former community would be exhorted to give them the cold shoulder or worse. Historically the Church has connived at many forced marriages (and at abuse within marriage – Beatrice dei Cenci comes to mind, but there have been so many others). So let’s not take such a partisan approch – there’s a role for religion (if you want) and a role for the state.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

I apologise – I had not read your comment when I made the same point about the Council of Trent.

Your point about marriage outside the particular denomination is apposite. I still have my Catholic Catechism from my primary School “The Scottish Catechism of Christian Doctrine” Imprimatur 1954, published 1960 in which it says (Para 502) “The Catholic Church forbids mixed marriages always and everywhere.” and in (503) “The Church has always forbidden mixed marriages and considered them unlawful and pernicious.”

To be fair, you really can’t beat a 1960s Catholic education (if you can overcome the sense of guilt) because it gives you the information needed to discuss things with the clergy on ground they find uncomfortable. When one of my daughters got married (to a Catholic) the priest was banging on about the sacrament dating back to the marriage feast at Cana, and was very unhappy unhappy to be informed that it wasn’t a sacrament before 1563. I’m afraid “been nowhere, done nothin'” is not a qualification for the priesthood!

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago

I was taught that the Church always considered it a Sacrament and taught as much but Protestants were unwilling to accept that and so it was codified clearly at Trent. Similar to the 7 books of the Bible that were thrown out. Although they were listed as Canon from early in Church history Luther felt free to toss them out and so Trent reiterated what was Catholic Canon regarding the books of the Bible. The 7 books weren’t suddenly introduced at that time as some non-Catholics claim.