How does the Church’s teaching on marriage relate to UK law?

20 September 2019

Write, if you have any questions that you would like answered, or to add to the answers given below


Given our condition as a state Church, and bearing in mind recent and proposed changes to the law, what should a preacher say about the Church’s teaching on marriage? How does it relate to the law of the land?

Your answers: The Church of England’s position as an Established Church — or “state Church” in the questioner’s enquiry — has no bearing on the Church’s teaching on marriage. Whether established or not, the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. Establishment means that, whether they like it or not, those who exercise power acknowledge that in doing so they are accountable to God.

On marriage, though, irrespective of whether the Church would recommend any particular marriage or feel that it could bless it or not, those marriages that the State recognises as marriages are legally valid. They create obligations of mutual fidelity and support. If, as a result, the parties have committed themselves to obligations that some might think create spiritual problems for a Christian — as, for example, where they have created more than one set of obligations that appear potentially incompatible with each other — that is their own responsibility to manage.

Likewise, though, even if there are obligations that continue, those whom the State does not regard as still married to each other are not. That is so, even if the questioner’s Christian belief is that they ought to be.

Possibly, the real moral question that the Church should be asking is whether it is legitimate for a couple to insist that they are entitled to expect a priest to bless a relationship which he or she either doesn’t believe God will bless, or cannot say with confidence whether God is willing to or not. In such cases, the couple should be expected to take that risk upon themselves and not expect somebody else to incur it for them.

(The Revd) Dru Brooke-Taylor
Hotwells, Bristol


We need to get over the fact that the Church’s understanding of marriage was divorced from the State’s understanding in the 1960s. The preacher in church should speak of holy things. Contractual implications are best left with the civil registrar.

Gwilym Stone


[Divorce a vinculo (dissolution of a marriage), if not divorce a mensa et thoro (separation, originally regu­lated by the ecclesiastical courts), has always been incompatible with the declara­tion “. . . let no man put asunder” in the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer; it was, however, obtained, expensively, by means of private Act of Parliament, by a few individuals after the Church of England’s breach with Rome, and, often less expensively, by far more peti­tioners since the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. The questions when and how far Church and State first differed in their view of mar­riage are thus more complex than implied above. The State also pro­vides for conscientious objection by the clergy to some categories of marriage. Editor]


Your question: Is it ever lawful for a Church of England priest to celebrate the eucharist using the Roman Catholic or Methodist rite?

G. S.


Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.

We ask readers not to send us letters for forwarding, and those giving answers to provide full name, address, and, if possible, telephone number.

Forthcoming Events

21-22 February 2020
Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature
For 2020 the Bloxham festival celebrates ‘The Power of Love’. Book tickets

26 March 2020
Theology Slam Live Final
Theology Slam is back, continuing its search for the most engaging young voices on theology and the contemporary world. Find out more

Job of the Week


Organists and Layworkers


Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)