Hope Parish Website

Hope Parish Website headerChurch in Wales cross

The RectorAugust 2007
Dear Friends,

“I publish banns of marriage between X of this parish and Y of that parish. If you know of any cause or just impediment why these persons may not be joined together in holy matrimony you are to declare it. This is for the first/second/third time of asking.” A few months before their weddings couples may be seen in church at the mid-morning service, perhaps accompanied by a set of parents. To them, hearing their banns read is very exciting and all part of the build-up to their Big Day. Look at those words again and you will recognise that the reading of banns is basically a request for those present to state objections, if they have any, which isn’t quite so romantic. However, banns have come to serve as a public announcement of the marriage and to help the couple realise the responsibilities and life-changing events soon to be upon them.

Banns of marriage, in common with the alternative procedures before a marriage, known as preliminaries, are all basically unsatisfactory. Banns may have been effective when a larger proportion of the population attended church and members of the community knew each other better, but a couple may ask to have their banns read in church a few days after moving into the parish, at which point no one present is likely to have heard of them. Today’s society is fluid and people move for the sake of employment from one part of the country to another. They live in one place but may work or spend leisure time in another, where they are better known.

An alternative to banns is a licence, obtainable from the local authority Registrar or from the Diocesan Registrar – a solicitor who acts for the church. Obtaining such a licence involves just one of the couple making a declaration that they are free to marry the other and that the one making the declaration has been living in the parish for the previous fortnight or possibly has been attending the church there regularly. The other party need not even know that a licence has been applied for! When a couple complete an application form for their wedding they will sign that one of them is resident in the relevant parish and that they are single, widowed or divorced, but perhaps the mking of oaths and the involvement of a solicitor in issuing a licence add gravity.

Another option involves notification of the marriage being displayed at the local authority Registry for an interval. The unsatisfactory aspect of this arrangement is that no one with any kind of life is going to spend their time studying these notices and there is little more chance of their knowing the couple than if their banns were read in church. The option I prefer when the couple are usually resident outside the parish but claim that they will be resident in order to qualify for marriage here is for them to obtain a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate. This will involve each of them making a separate declaration to the relevant Registrar if they live in different areas.

It has been known for clergy to receive an urgent phone call from a couple immediately before their wedding because they have not obtained a licence, but this is unnecessary where banns have been read. Banns need to be read in both parishes where the couple live, and like marriage licences, are valid for up to three months. At one time it was said of an unadventurous man that he had married the girl next door. I note from the majority of application forms that many people are even less adventurous than that!

The Government has made proposals to reform marriage law but even these will leave the British system incompatible with that of Europe. From time to time mainly Roman Catholic clergy from abroad, who have been requested to solemnise the wedding of a British national, ask for a statement that the individual is free to marry. A copy of a marriage certificate would indicate that someone is not entitled to, but the opposite is harder to prove.

It should not be difficult to devise a system by which a person’s marital status is recorded alongside their existence. If they were to apply for a licence to marry and were single, or if a previous marriage or civil partnership had been dissolved, this would be granted for a period of, say, three months. Once the ceremony had been performed and the paperwork returned their entry would be amended accordingly and would stand until any relevant change in their circumstances, such as being widowed or divorced. This system would, of course, take a number of years to be established, but it would then be relatively easy to check if a person were married or not, or if he or she had recently applied for a marriage licence.

In the meantime I hope that the information above will help you through the legalities as they stand at present.

Yours sincerely
Martin Snellgrove

Back to Wedding Page

See full archive of The Rector Writes articles