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Mothers to be named on marriage certificates

04 March 2021

From May, under reforms, clergy will no longer complete the formal marriage register

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THE names of both the mothers and fathers of the couple will be included on the marriage register for the first time from May, under reforms to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Act 2019. Currently, only the father is named on marriage certificates.

The Act completed its passage through Parliament and attained Royal Assent on 26 March 2019. The regulations to amend the Marriage Act 1949 were laid in Parliament on Monday of last week, and will come into force on 4 May, subject to approval.

The clergy were informed of the changes in a newsletter from HM Passport Office last week.

Marriages will still be solemnised according to Church of England or Church in Wales rites. Clerics will remain responsible for ensuring that couples meet the requirements to marry in the church building; complete the relevant preliminaries, such as the calling of banns; and conduct pre-marriage checks and documentation.

From May, however, they will no longer complete the formal register for the marriage nor issue the legal marriage certificate (News, 16 August 2019). Instead, they will be required to create a marriage document or obtain the marriage schedule before the date of marriage and return this to the register office for electronic registration before the certificate is issued.

Clerics will no longer be responsible for corrections in marriage registers, and quarterly returns for marriages in the church building will no longer need to be completed.

The proposal concerning mothers’ names was first brought to Parliament by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, as a Private Member’s Bill in 2018 (Comment, 2 March 2018). He told the Lords that the existing practice was “archaic and unchanged since Victorian times, where children were seen as fathers’ property, and little consideration was given to mothers’ roles in raising children”.

Owing to constraints on parliamentary time, the proposals were taken forward in a Private Member’s Bill tabled by Tim Loughton MP, which received Royal Assent.

Dr Smith said on Tuesday: “The naming of mothers on marriage certificates . . . is an important step that recognises a mother’s central family role. This change rights a historic wrong so that wherever marriages take place, a woman’s place is not on the sidelines. Once the implementation has taken place, which will involve some change, the new electronic registers should make the process of certification easier for clergy.”

The Church’s Head of Welcome and Life Events, Canon Sandra Millar, told Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on Wednesday that the previous rule had caused some “awkward conversations” between clerics and couples over the past decade. “We’ll be delighted to be able to include that part of their story [mothers and their occupations] as well,” she said.

Law Commission proposals “flawed”. The chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England, Mark Sheard, has said that Law Commission proposals that consider broadening the approved premises for marriage ceremonies, but not the solemnity of marriage, are “conceptually flawed”.

In its 500-page report, the Commission suggested that weddings should no longer be limited to churches, register offices, and other approved premises, such as hotels, but be allowed in homes and elsewhere — for example, cruise ships.

In a written response, last week, to a General Synod member’s question on the Church’s response, Mr Sheard said: “We commented that, by addressing the law around weddings without considering the question of marriage, the proposals were conceptually flawed.

“The Commission’s approach led them to conclude that the State should, in effect, support a deregulated market of wedding celebrants and venues. Consequently, the Commission’s stated desire that weddings must be ‘dignified’ would be undermined by its own recommendations.

“We noted, inter alia, that commercialisation of the wedding ceremony was undesirable; that the public nature of marriage necessitated that weddings should not be held behind closed doors; and that the report’s definition of a ‘religious group’ for the purpose of licensing celebrants was inadequate.

“We suggested that the present ban on all religious content in civil weddings should be eased to permit Christian or other religious references that were, for instance, taken from literature rather than liturgy.”

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