Thinking Anglicans

Changes to registration of marriages

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Significant changes are about to take place in the way that marriages are registered in England and Wales. The changes will affect all clergy in the Church of England and the Church in Wales who conduct marriages. The implementation date has yet to be announced, but it is likely to be before the end of this year. The Faculty Office has issued the following summary of the changes and their implementation.

Marriage Law News
August 2019

You may already be aware that the way in which marriages are registered is set to change following the passing into law of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 which, as well as providing for opposite-sex couples to be able to enter into civil partnerships, will allow for mother’s names to be included in Marriage Registers as well as/in place of father’s names. It also makes provision for significant changes in the way that marriages are registered.

Representatives of the Faculty Office and the Legal Offices of the Church of England and Church in Wales have been in discussion with the General Register Office (GRO) about the proposed changes which they under pressure from Government Ministers to bring into effect as soon as possible – and despite our collective representations, the GRO are currently proposing to bring in the changes before the end of the year. A number of issues remain to be resolved including the provision of a workable secure system to produce the new documentation and time to train the 20,000+ clergy who are able to conduct weddings in both Churches.

In essence the proposals will replace Marriage Registers and Marriage Certificates (issued at the time of the wedding) with a Marriage Document which will be prepared by the officiating priest before the wedding. At the ceremony, the Marriage Document will be signed by the couple, their witnesses and the officiating priest (in much the same way as the Registers are currently). The significant difference is that the couple will then need to ensure that the Marriage Document is deposited at the local Register Office within 7 days of the date of the wedding and the local Superintendent Registrar will then record the details and issue the couple with a Marriage Certificate (for which there will be a fee). The couple can ask someone to lodge the Marriage Document on their behalf (as in many cases they will, of course, be on honeymoon!) but it is their responsibility, NOT the officiating minister’s responsibility, to ensure that it is done.

As an interim measure, the Marriage Document will be available in a number of formats, including a manual format and a ‘type and print’ facility. The Regulations envisage that eventually there will be a secure online portal to which clergy will require access as there is provision for couples to be reminded by email from the General Register Office if they have not lodged the Document within the required period.

For marriages that currently take place by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates, the SRC will be replaced by a “Marriage Schedule” which will be produced by the Register Office taking Notice of the Marriage and that Schedule will then be signed by all the parties including the officiating priest once the marriage has taken place and, again, will have to be lodged with the Register Office within 7 days.

Immediately following implementation, the existing marriage register books held in churches will need to be closed. The incumbent, or in a vacancy the Area/Rural Dean, will be responsible for closing the registers by striking through any unused entry spaces. One copy of the register will then need to be returned to the local Superintendent Registrar together with any unused marriage certificate stock. The other copy of the register is to be retained in the church until such time as it is to be deposited in the Diocesan Record Office.

There is a proposal that, in due course there will be a register book for marriages solemnized in Anglican churches in the same way as for baptisms, confirmations and burials. However that will be an internal matter for the CofE and nothing to do with the GRO and it will not be the legal record of marriages, nor will be certificates issued from it. The Legal Office will advise further on this in due course. It is not immediately clear if the Church in Wales has anything similar in mind.

Before the new system goes live, some training will be provided by the GRO. However, it is unlikely that the GRO will have the resources to provide face-to-face training for all clergy and there will need to be a degree of co-operation with the dioceses. The GRO will however provide “awareness” (probably online and by mail-out) and a dedicated helpline available Monday – Saturday as well as a 24 hour emergency line. It is also intended to provide a printed aide-memoire to be placed in the vestry and which will include the emergency numbers and reminder of the new system. As regard training on the new system, it has been agreed that the Diocesan Registrars will be the most appropriate point of contact for the GRO to co-ordinate this.

These changes are significant, both for clergy and the couples, and it is essential that all clergy who conduct marriages are aware of them to ensure that the law is complied with and that couples’ marriages are validly conducted and properly registered. As further details become available we will post details on our website and Church House, Westminster and The Representative Body of the Church in Wales will also communicate the details through the dioceses and any relevant national networks.

Faculty Office
5 August 2019

Church Times has published this article today: Unease at timetable for clergy to adapt to new marriage formalities.

Update 1

The Church of England issued the statement below today. Law and Religion UK have also covered this story here and here; their articles include comments on the timescale for these changes and the law governing them.

Marriage registration changes
09/08/2019

The Government plans to introduce a new system of registration for marriages, including church weddings, in England and Wales.

It is anticipated that the new system will replace traditional marriage registers with a new “marriage document” to be signed by the couple at the wedding and lodged with the local register office.

Although no date has been set for implementing the new system, representatives of the Church of England, together with the Church in Wales and the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, have been in discussion with the General Register Office on how it will be introduced.

It is expected that the General Register Office will provide training and information for clergy. Details will be announced as soon as possible.

The Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church of England’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, said: “We are in close discussions with the General Register Office, who are working hard to ensure that the change in the system of registering marriages is as smooth and seamless as possible.

“I want to reassure clergy and couples planning a marriage that we are absolutely committed to making the new system work within the context of a Church of England marriage service and the GRO has promised to provide training and comprehensive user-friendly information for clergy.

“We are currently in discussion with the GRO about the exact shape that will take and will update clergy as soon as the details have been finalised.

“Although no firm date has yet been set for the introduction of the new system we are aware of the desire to implement it as soon as possible.

“A church wedding is a very special day where unique promises are made before God and in the presence of friends, family and the wider community in a timeless setting, marking the beginning of their married lives together.”

Notes

The question of changing the status of Clergy as marriage registrars has not arisen and the situation will remain the same as it is currently.

Update 2

Law and Religion UK includes more on this story in their weekly round-up.

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Richard AshbyJohn BartonStanley MonkhouseTobias Stanislas HallerLister Tonge Recent comment authors
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Dominic Barrington
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Dominic Barrington

This feels badly thought out, and surely raises the question (perhaps deliberately) about whether clergy should continue to be able legally to register marriages. (Indeed, I suspect the GRO would love to end clergy registration of marriages, particularly after all the sham marriage incidents.) Personally, I think the entire responsibility for that should rest with the ‘town hall’, and we should follow continental Europe in offering church services after a legal wedding, without any of the huge legal repercussions of registration hanging over the church and its ministers.

Kelvin Holdsworth
Guest

I find it very odd that clergy from the Church of England seem perfectly able to marry people in Scotland without months of training or even sometimes the courtesy of contacting the local Anglican bishop or local incumbent. Yet when a very similar system of registering marriages is proposed in England at four months notice it seems impossible for some to conceive how it might be achieved.

Mary Hancock
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Mary Hancock

Just wondering what will happen for couples (mainly the bride in C of E cases) who would normally take a marriage certificate with their passport in their maiden name if going on honeymoon soon after the wedding to countries where they may need to confirm they are actually married. And I assume publishing banns will still continue…?

Ian
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Ian

I may be out of date…. But there was a form the minister could issue before the marriage took place. This marriage intention went to the Passport office and was enough to sort the new passport. P

Mary Hancock
Guest
Mary Hancock

Hi Ian. Yes, that is currently an option but not one that has been used by most brides I have dealt with – and I usually mention it.

Nigel LLoyd
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Nigel LLoyd

A bonkers note at the end. If registration is to be done at the Town Hall, then of course that does end our status as Registrars.

Peter Mullins
Guest
Peter Mullins

We are still able to legally conduct marriages without the presence of a civil registrar – that is what is meant by our retaining out status as registrars. The way the paperwork is then handled does indeed change: instead of our issuing marriage certificates ourselves and our also sending a full copy of every entry in our marriage registers to the local Register Office at the end of each quarter, the new system will be that the the couple themselves get the single piece of paperwork generated by us at their wedding to the local Register Office which then issues… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

I think it might be helpful to distinguish between ‘celebrant’ and ‘registrar’. For example, in Scotland (ah! civilisation!) you can get married outdoors almost anywhere by a celebrant. The process is this: you provide a local registrar with proof of your identities. The registrar then authorises a ‘marriage schedule’. The celebrant at the actual marriage service (say, on top of Ben Nevis) signs the marriage schedule. and gets two witnesses to sign it too. You then return the completed schedule, confirming the marriage has taken place, to the local registrar. A little later you receive a full marriage certificate in… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

It’s all bonkers. The sooner the church has nothing to do with registration of marriage, the better. Why did the church ever get mixed up in it – other than as yet another finger-wagging attempt to control hoi polloi? In 13 years of ordained ministry, I’ve officiated at – give or take – 75 church weddings, most of which have had – by the couples’ admission – more to do with the photogenic churches than anything else. As to finding competent organists who are worth the fee – good luck with that; as an organist myself I know how one… Read more »

Fr. Dean Henley
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Fr. Dean Henley

I’m not aware that there has been hanky panky in the church toilets whilst I’ve been officiating at a marriage Stanley, there may have been, but they must have kept the noise down. I have had the local pub have to come and collect the empties from our churchyard because they were running out of glasses to serve their customers with. It can be rather disconcerting when the bride in an ill-fitting strapless gown stands in front of me re-arranging her ample poitrine during the vows. Other distractions during the vows have included the bride feeding her children Haribo. Bridegrooms… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Dean, I’ve long had the urge to behave and dress like the officiant in “Benidorm” at Madge’s ill-fated beach wedding. I haven’t acted upon it – yet. Yes, the men tend to behave rather more respectfully (boredom is the reason – you’re right) than the women. As a former teacher of anatomy I’ve found myself in wonderment at the human morphology on display. On one memorable occasion I recall the dress barely covered the inguinal region. But as you say, it’s all increasingly irrelevant. Thankfully.

John Barton
Guest
John Barton

Stanley will be pleased to know that his cynicism over wedding couples’ motivation is negated by the facts. Objective research revealed that only 4% said the church’s appearance was the main reason for choosing to be married there; it also revealed that couples are fearful of clergy and of being judged.
Now I’m retired I can spend more time with couples who want a church wedding and I’m impressed by their resolve and sobriety. The wedding itself blends reverence with enthusiasm. What a privilege for Stanley and me to be involved and proclaim God’s blessing.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I seem to have unleashed Mr Barton’s inner schoolmaster chiding a naughty child. Better out than in. In this instance I’d rather take note of my experiences than a survey of which I know nothing of construction, methodology, sample selection and robust statistical analysis. I’d be interested to know, by the by, how results compared between south east and north and Midlands, between UPAs and non UPAs, between churches of different churchmanships, and so on. As regards cynicism, it seems fashionable in the CoE to regard as cynics those who report unspinned facts.

John Barton
Guest
John Barton

The survey was conducted among 822 people marrying in the Bradford Diocese and the Buckingham Archdeaconry of the Oxford Diocese. They were consulted at the first moment of their contact with the church, when 4% said the appearance of the building was the main reason for their choice of venue. They were asked again around the time of the ceremony, when the figure dropped to 1%; and again a year later, when no one said it was their main reason. Stanley may prefer his subjective judgement to impartial research, but can hardly claim it as factual. Am I guilty of… Read more »

Lister Tonge
Guest
Lister Tonge

I am delighted to read ‘poitrine’ and ‘inguinal’ in these hallowed columns.

Thanks to Dean and Stanley.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Completely irrelevant but ‘Belle Poitrine’ was the heroine of the wonderful spoof autobiography by Patrick Dennis
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Me_(novel)

Tobias Stanislas Haller
Guest

This is very much the system I’ve been accustomed to in the US, with a couple of minor differences. For example, in New York State, the couple obtain a marriage license, which allows any registered officiant to “solemnize” the marriage (clergy, justice of the peace, government official of any kind, etc.). At the solemnization, the couple and officiant (and IIRC, the witnesses) sign the license; the cleric (rather than the couple) is responsible for mailing the signed license to the town or city hall where the couple obtained the license (an envelope is provided!) within so many days or be… Read more »

Jim Pratt
Guest
Jim Pratt

Tobias, it actually sounds more like the Quebec system. No license is required. The couple come to the celebrant with their identity documents. The celebrant publishes banns (since July 2018, published on-line on the web site of the Directeur de l’état civil, the equivalent of the GRO) and prepares the Declaration of Marriage. At theto solemnization, the couple, the celebrant and the witnesses sign the Declaration of Marriage, and the celebrant mails the original of the Declaration to the DEC (postage paid envelope provided), with a carbon copy for the couple and a carbon for the celebrant’s files. The couple… Read more »

Tobias Stanislas Haller
Guest

Thanks, Jim. I wasn’t familiar with the Quebec system, which seems to be a close cousin to the US (although that varies slightly from state to state). It sounds as though the English/Welsh are coming into greater congruence with the North American models.

Robert Ian Williams
Guest
Robert Ian Williams

Very good as it will help prevent corrupt clergy running immigration scams.