Further to our post Coronavirus COVID-19: Marriage Law Update on the advice published by the Faculty Office on 18 March 2020, there has been a subsequent update in the light of guidance issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York after the Prime Minister’s Address to the Nation on Monday 23 March, and advice from the Church of England.
This updated advice from the Faculty Office, extracts of which are reproduced below, seeks to address some common questions which it has been receiving since the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced and which were not covered in its earlier advice. These are: weddings in church; emergency weddings in hospital, hospice or at home; and establishing a Qualifying Connection.
No weddings may take place in church buildings until further notice. A wedding requires a minimum of five people to be present and this exceeds the numbers which the Government restrictions currently permit to gather together in one place.
The COVID-19 situation has created a surge in the number of enquiries for Emergency Marriage Arrangements (EMAs). The Faculty Office is continuing to facilitate the issue of a Special Marriage Licence for a Church of England/Church in Wales wedding to proceed in a hospital, hospice or at home where one of the parties is terminally ill (whether through Covid-19 or otherwise).
Any decision to proceed with a wedding in these circumstances will, as always, be one for the clergy and parties and will need to be based upon medical advice and with social distancing policies and guidance applied as regard the officiant and witnesses. The permission of the hospital or hospice authorities will always be required in writing. Clergy or others enquiring about a wedding in these circumstances are invited to use the contact form in the first instance for further advice.
For couples who do not already have the legal entitlement to be married in a church of their choice, this may be attained through the attendance of services in the parish at least once a month for a period of six months or more. Now that services have been suspended for a season, many couples who have not been able to attend for six months already will be concerned that they are unable to complete their ‘qualifying attendance’.
Where they have already started to attend and are only prevented from maintaining attendance due to the suspension of services, provided that couples resume as soon as services are able to resume, the ‘gap’ will still be capable of counting towards their ‘habitual attendance at public worship for six months or more’.
Where couples have been prevented from starting their attendance period due to the suspension of services, the situation is quite different as the six month period can only start from the date of the first actual attendance at public worship. If there is then insufficient time for couples to create the qualifying connection between services resuming and their intended wedding date, an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Marriage Licence is likely to be required.
Whilst every application for a Special Licence is considered on its own merits, the Faculty Office will be very sympathetic where couples have shown a willingness and commitment to create a qualifying connection with their chosen church and have been prevented from doing so solely due to the suspension of public worship.
Although ‘attendance’ at any virtual or live streamed acts of worship cannot be said to be attending public worship sufficient to count towards a qualifying connection, couples are encouraged to participate in such services as are available in the parish through social media or other channels.