The Revd Stephen Trott has tabled a Private Member’s Motion at General Synod, as follows:
“CIVIL PRELIMINARIES TO MARRIAGE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) to move:
“That this Synod, noting the Registration of Marriages Regulations 2015 and the growing burden and complexity of the legal requirements imposed on members of the clergy who conduct weddings in the Church of England, invite the Archbishops’ Council to bring forward draft legislation to replace ecclesiastical preliminaries to marriage by universal civil preliminaries, such as those which have been in operation in Scotland … when banns were replaced by a Marriage Schedule issued by the civil registrar.”
He has raised the issue before. In a letter to the then Clerk to Synod in 2010, he pointed out that the genesis of the banns system was the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and suggested that it had outlived its usefulness. Instead, he proposed that:
“1. Banns of Matrimony will only be published in future as a purely ecclesiastical requirement, and only in the parish church or place of worship where the intended marriage is to take place;
2. the repeal of s.5(a) of the Marriage Act 1949, which permits solemnisation of a marriage after the publication of banns of matrimony;
3. this will leave only three routes by which a marriage may lawfully be solemnised by the clergy of the Church of England: by common licence, by special licence, or by superintendent registrar’s certificate;
4. in other words, the great majority of those who wish to be married in church will have first to obtain a “marriage licence” from the state to present to the minister who is to solemnise their marriage, transferring the responsibility for all legal issues to the state, which regulates such matters. In this way the minister will be able to prepare the couple for Christian marriage, safe in the knowledge that they have already obtained leave to be married lawfully via the local register office;
5. if the clergy are permitted to retain their current discretion as to whether or not to accept a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate, they will be able to refer any case to the diocesan registrar for consideration for a common licence, where additional advice is needed for any reason;
6. the “marriage licence” as the law stands would be a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate. It may be that the government would wish to modernise the procedures and the terminology, and actually designate such a document as a Marriage Licence, and that we might be permitted as a Synod to amend the 1949 Act accordingly.”
Since then, nothing has happened.
Banns were abolished in Scotland by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977; and the Church of Scotland abolished any internal canonical requirement for banns by passing a reciprocal Act of Assembly: Act III 1978 Anent Proclamation of Banns. And the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.
What is not mentioned in Stephen Trott’s motion – because it is not a matter for the Church of England or relevant to the deliberations of Synod – is the fact that, normally, calling the banns is also a necessary preliminary to marriage in the Church in Wales (with, as in England, the alternative of a common licence or a special licence). So a change in the law in the way he suggests will result in England and Wales being out of phase, as they were for a time on the issue of marriage of those with a “qualifying connection” with a particular church. That situation was ultimately remedied by the enactment of the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010; our understanding is that, should the Church of England change the law on banns by Measure, the Church in Wales, if it wishes to keep in step, will have to seek a change in the law by finding a friendly MP to promote a private Member’s bill at Westminster.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the Government has already asked the Law Commission to undertake a broad review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies and the Commission is currently scoping that review. Perhaps the adequacy of the banns system in ensuring that couples are lawfully married under secular law could usefully be part of the exercise.