Coronavirus COVID-19: Marriage Law Update

Legal advice published by the Faculty Office

Church services and gatherings for public worship are not taking place at the preset time following the joint letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the pastoral declaration issued by the Bench of Bishops in Wales, both announced on 17 March. As a consequence, a number of questions around Banns of Marriage and Weddings have arisen, and the Faculty Office has issued a note, extracts of which are reproduced below, which seeks to answer those in general terms.

Banns of Marriage can only be called within the context of the principal service of public worship in a parish church on a Sunday: see s.7, Marriage Act 1949. Given that there will be no public worship taking place, Banns cannot be called. Banns cannot be called via a ‘live-streamed’ or ‘virtual service’ to a wider digital community but with no congregation physically present nor by any form of ‘public notice’ on the door of a parish church.

For any wedding where Banns of Marriage have not been completed, and where the couple, in consultation with the Minister, do not wish to postpone their wedding (see below), a Common Marriage Licence will normally be required to authorise the marriage. Clergy and couples should talk to their relevant Diocesan Registry. A Common Marriage Licence is normally available if a couple would have been able to marry by banns. Common Marriage Licences are valid for three months from the date on which they are issued.

Alternatively, a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate might be available. This is a civil marriage preliminary issued through the local Registry Office but which can still authorise a marriage in the Church of England or Church in Wales but only for couples where one, or both, live in the Parish where the wedding is to take place or where the Parish Church is their usual place of worship (usually evidenced by being on the church electoral roll). A Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate cannot be issued where the couple have a Qualifying Connection to a parish (under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 or the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010) unless one or both of the couple are non-UK/EEA/Swiss Nationals – in which case the SRC is the only marriage preliminary available. Note, however, that there is normally a 28-day Notice period between the giving of Notice of Intended Marriage and the issue of an SRC so this is not a quick fix. Once issued, an SRC is valid for twelve months from the date on which Notice was given.

Special Marriage Licences are issued from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Faculty Office. If the options set out above are not available and if all else fails, the Faculty Office is able to grant a Special Marriage Licence for a marriage to take place at any convenient time or place in England or Wales. The issue of a special Licence is discretionary. Please make an early enquiry with the Faculty Office if you think a special licence will be needed. Although Special Marriage Licences are normally issued with a three month period of validity, in view of the Coronavirus the Faculty Office is currently issuing licences with a one year validity period to permit greater flexibility.

Weddings – where Banns of Marriage have been completed, the marriage must be solemnized within three calendar months from the last publication. After three months the publication of Banns becomes void. The Banns will either need to be re-read, or if that is not possible, another preliminary for the marriage – common or special licence or superintendent registrar’s certificate (see above) – will be needed.

Unless the Government changes the law, the common law right of parishioners and those with a Qualifying Connection to be married in a parish church remains. However, the date, time and other arrangements are, legally speaking, for the minister to determine. It is for the minister, in consultation with the couple, to make a decision about how or whether the marriage can take place during the Coronavirus outbreak. It would also be for the minister to prescribe any conditions if the wedding was to go ahead in his or her church, such as a limit on numbers to ensure social distancing.

The Church of England’s advice is that wedding services can take place but subject to the rules and guidance on social distancing. Any wedding in church would need to be on a very small scale. Only five people need be present at a marriage service: the couple, and the clergy person, plus two witnesses.

The Church in Wales’ guidance states that weddings scheduled until 31July 2020 should be postponed and any fees already paid refunded. Couples with a later wedding date should be free to cancel/rearrange without financial penalty. If for pressing pastoral reasons a wedding must take place, it should be solemnized with a maximum of ten persons present – the five who are required to be present (see above) and up to five others.

What if the officiating minister or couple fall sick? Arrangements should be made to ensure that there is a back-up Anglican member of the clergy with a licence or permission to officiate in case the officiating minister is required to pull-out due to sickness. A lay person or a minister of another Christian church cannot officiate in the place of the Anglican member of the clergy. If the couple fall sick, serious consideration should be given to whether the wedding should proceed. That would be a matter to be risk-assessed in view of all the relevant information at the time.

The above advice is of a general nature intended for clergy and couples and addresses some of the key issues. This note is considered to be correct as of 18th March 2020


The Banns become void three months their final reading, but there is no such legal restriction on their first and second readings.

Clergy and couples with specific questions are advised to contact their own Diocesan Registry. Also, the staff of the Faculty Office are also available to assist. There is also advice on the Church of England web page, scroll down to Practical guidance for weddings.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Coronavirus COVID-19: Marriage Law Update" in Law & Religion UK, 23 March 2020,

3 thoughts on “Coronavirus COVID-19: Marriage Law Update

  1. Has any thought been given to reducing the fees for a Common Licence, I wonder? It will look very bad if couples are expected to pay £200 rather than £45 – it will be perceived as profiteering from the virus.
    Mark Nash-Williams

    • As Peter Collier states in his Comment, below, the measures taken will be specific to each diocese. We will follow developments in this area with interest, particularly on the action taken by Peter in the Diocese of York.

  2. Pingback: COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance | Law & Religion UK

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