Law and religion round-up – 26th November

A week in which marriage and cohabitation were much in the news and GAFCON claimed its first scalp (or should that be bonnet?) in Scotland…

Unrecognised religious marriages

A survey for The Truth about Muslim Marriage, a documentary broadcast on Channel 4 on Tuesday, suggested that as many as 200,000 Muslim couples may be living in unregistered marriages. The survey of 923 Muslim women revealed that while 78 per cent wanted their marriages to be legally valid, 61 per cent had had a nikah ceremony only. It also suggested that some 28 per cent of those women who had married in a nikah ceremony were unaware that it did not give them the same rights and protections as a legally-recognised marriage.

Aina Khan, a family lawyer and Islamic law specialist at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, told the programme that though many faiths were affected, the current law in England and Wales put Muslims at a particular disadvantage because most do not get married in a registered place of worship. The majority of Muslims, she suggested, prefer to get married at home or in a hotel or rented hall rather than in a mosque.

“Common law marriages”

This week, the informative Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce blog carried the piece by John Bolch What we really mean by ‘common law marriage’. This reported that

“[s]ome innocent at the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor website was foolish enough to post a tweet saying that there’s no such thing as a common law marriage…The tweet attracted the savage ire of a certain well-known family law Queen’s Counsel”. Examples cited were common law recognition of overseas marriages that fail the strict formality requirements of ‘real’ marriages, and another QC pointed out that marriages of members of the Royal Family are excluded from the marriage acts, “[a]s Prince Charles could not get married in a registry [sic] office he and Camilla have a common law marriage.”

However, the post concluded:

“But in the end, all of this is little more than lawyers being pedantic … Yes, it is possible to accurately describe these things as ‘common law marriages’, but it is also possible to accurately describe Winston Churchill as a ‘bricklayer’. But no one would reasonably do so.

And as a legal academic quite rightly pointed out on the thread, what the public and, indeed, most lawyers understand by the term ‘common law marriage’ is what I described above: a marriage somehow recognised by the law simply because two people have lived together for a certain period of time. That is what we really mean when we use the term”.

But far be it from us to criticize the actions of a fellow pedant.

Harris Piskies leave the SEC

Scottish Anglican Network reports that the people of Christ Church, Harris, have announced that they can no longer remain under the oversight of the Bishop of Argyll & the Isles and will, instead,

“maintain a faithful Anglican witness on Harris under the oversight of the Right Reverend Andy Lines, who was consecrated as a missionary bishop for Europe in June and who will act under the authority of the GAFCON primates.”

Some background to Christ Church may be found on the SEC website, on which the congregation explains “Where we Came From“; the move in 1998 to the present accommodation is described as “another great step forward in providing supported self-sufficient ministry in outlying areas”. Although not recent, the 2008 report in Ship of Fools describes a small, but welcoming congregation.

However, an important question is “exactly who holds the title to the church and the rectory?” The SAN report states:

“At a meeting with Bishop Pearson, they explained their decision and asked if the Scottish Episcopal Church would keep the church they have built and the money they have given. The bishop insisted that the SEC would retain all assets. In response, the congregation made it clear that they would walk away rather than submit to a decision which departs from scripture, tradition and the teaching of Jesus Christ.”

So very possibly coming to a sheriff court near you. How the SEC and GAFCON handle the situation is likely to provide important insights into the thinking of both organizations.

Church of England website

In the last round-up, we reported on the re-launch of the Church of England’s website, and on Monday we posted some quick links to pages that we thought would be useful to our readers. We and other website administrators consider that it is premature to comment on the changes, although on Twitter it has been pointed out by a high-profile clergywoman that, in addition to ecclesiastical lawyers, “there are some kinks that need ironing for the jobbing clergy”. The search engine appears to have been problematic for some, and “external” searches using Google have proved frustrating: for some light relief, see A Litany of Anglican Woe for the New Church of England Website.

In addition, has responded to a number of tweets to its account and identified the location of specific items on the new site; we collated these responses, which will be primarily of interest to clergy/Synod members in Re-launched CofE website – further links. Although such posts do wonders for our readership statistics, we look forward to the time when these are not necessary.

However, there are two issues relating to navigating the revised web pages: the efficiency of its search engine; and the ability to access a given page, knowing its whereabouts on the site. With regard to the former, by chance we came across a tweet from the C of E which said, “Google is currently re-indexing the site and more accurate results will appear in the coming days”. On the latter, as for any website, there will always be a place for regular users to develop their own “quick links”.

Quick links

And finally… I

Reports the BBC, “A quick-thinking parish priest has used a plastic milk bottle to make himself an emergency dog collar.”

Sorry, folks: not news – and certainly not worth a spot on the Beeb website. To our certain knowledge, clergy have been cutting up plastic bottles to use as tabs in clerical shirts for at least the last forty years.

And finally… II

We noted an item on the Synod Members Resources page of the new C of E website entitled “General Synod Fridge Meetings and Displays Policy” – was this the opportunity to chill out between sessions, or reference “watercooler moments”? Alas no, as the correct spelling of the URL indicates.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 26th November

  1. I sent the Guardian the following letter regarding the Article by Bilal Hassam, Perhaps predictably the Guardian didn’t publish it

    “Bilal Hassam (Guardian 23 November) is wrong to suggest that the law treats Muslims and Muslim marriages unfairly or in a discriminatory way

    The law allows any religion to apply to register Marriages, whether Muslim, Catholic Sikh or Methodist the law is the same. A religious Marriage can be performed in authorised religious premises and indeed 120 Mosques are registered to perform Marriages which are both legally and religiously valid. It may well be the case that Mr Hassam and many other Muslims would prefer to have their religious ceremony at home rather than in a Mosque but that is a personal preference and not a religious requirement.

    If they did not want to perform their marriage ceremony in a Mosque then Mr Hassam and his wife could have had a purely secular Registry Office Marriage followed by the Religious Marriage at the time and place of their own choosing and indeed that is the norm in many countries.

    Certainly Marriage law could do with updating but the present system works and is fair for all religions. Mosques and Imans need to face up to their resposibilities and ensure that all their marriages are legally registered.”

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