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by Michael Ford last modified 28 May, 2019 05:13 PM

Marriage in the Church of England is regulated by a national secular law that was passed in 1947, and subsequently amended a little.

It sets out the rules that govern how to arrange to be married and how to make sure it is a valid marriage. Although the law is not Church Law, it is something the Registry can advise about in detail. More recently, the Church made some changes for its own procedures (see below), and these are also often the subject of Registry advice.

2014 Immigration Act

The Immigration Act 2014 makes important changes to the law relating to the marriage of persons from outside the European Economic Area (‘EEA’). It is essential that all clergy and anyone else involved with the legal aspects of marriage in church (including any lay persons who publish banns) are aware of the new legal position.

From 2 March 2015, it will no longer be legal for the marriages of non-European Economic Area nationals to be solemnised after the publications of banns of matrimony or on the authority of a common licence. This applies whether one or both parties are non-EEA nationals. Non-EEA nationals will need to obtain a superintendent registrar’s certificate (SRC) to solemnise the marriage. This means, for example, a British citizen cannot legally marry a Nigerian, Indian, Russian or United States citizen without an SRC from 2 March. 

When application is made for banns to be published, all couples should be asked to provide specified evidence that both of them are EEA nationals. A UK passport, an EEA passport or an EEA identity card are acceptable forms of evidence; if none of these is held, then a one-page guide to evidence requirements has been produced by our Diocesan Registry.

Key documents

EEA nationals are those of the 28 EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. All other nationals must be treated as non-EEA nationals.

Transitional arrangements will apply to marriages in respect of which a common licence has been granted or applied for in writing before 2 March 2015. Where that is the case, the marriage in question can lawfully be solemnized after 2 March in reliance on a common licence, provided that it is solemnized within three months of the date on which the licence is granted. Applications for common licences to enable marriages to take place under these transitional arrangements will continue to be dealt with under the special procedures that have been in operation since the House of Bishops guidance on the marriage of non-EEA nationals was issued in 2011. 

It is important that all clergy and anyone else involved with the legal aspects of marriage in church, including any lay persons who publish banns, are aware of the new legal position.

2012 Amendments

The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure has now been passed by both Houses of Parliament and is due to receive the Royal Assent on 19th December 2012.  Section 2 of the Measure, which comes into force immediately when Royal Assent is given, makes some important changes to the statutory procedure for publishing banns of marriage.  The clergy and others responsible for publishing banns need to be aware of these changes given the importance of banns being properly published. See the PDF in the Resources box on the left of this page.

The whole measure can be downloaded from here. Section 1 of the Measure will come into force at a later date, yet to be determined.

All clergy should ensure that this information is passed on to all in their benefice who may be responsible for the administration and publication of banns.

It is essential that the appropriate legal preliminary to a marriage is completed before the wedding takes place. All preliminaries are ways of showing that one of the parties has established the right to be married in the particular church and that neither of them is prevented from marrying at all (such as by being under age or already married) and completing a proper preliminary is essential to make a marriage possible and legally effective. The most usual preliminary is by the calling of Banns, where both the parties live in parishes in England and Wales.

If that is not the case, or because something has gone wrong in the Banns process, in most circumstances a Common Licence can be issued instead. One of the parties swears an Affidavit, either before a local member of clergy appointed by the Chancellor for the purpose (called a “surrogate”) or before the Registrar or Deputy Registrar. The Affidavit confirms the way in which the parties are entitled to be married in the church in question, and because it is made under Oath it is illegal if the person making it does not believe the contents to be true. The Licence – which is really a permission the Bishop gives through his Chancellor - is then issued at the Registry.

Although in emergency the issue of a Common Licence can be done at very short notice, it causes serious distress and inconvenience. It would, of course, help to avoid this if parishes put in place a procedure for checking that the necessary preliminary has been arranged a couple of weeks or so before the wedding. However, if there is found to be a problem at, for example, the rehearsal the night before the wedding, then please contact the Registry straight away.

In a few cases, an Archbishop's Licence is needed, and the Registry can advise about this and put enquirers in contact with the Faculty Office for further advice and application forms. If an Archbishop's Licence is urgently required, the Faculty Office can, in an emergency, deal with these in a very few days. The telephone number for that office is 020 7222 5381, and the office is open from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm on weekdays. 

The Registry staff are always happy to answer queries about any aspect of the legalities of church weddings, so if you need any advice please contact us.

Information regarding the new marriage law

Since 1 October 2008 it has been possible for a wider range of people to claim the right to be married in any specific parish church.  A person who can show a “qualifying connection” with a parish will be entitled to be married in its church whether by banns or by common licence as if, under the present law, they had been resident in the parish or on the electoral roll of the church. This entitlement is a legal right of the person with the connection, and as long as the other party is not personally prevented from marrying at all, that other does not have to show any connection with the church in question or any other church in order to be party to a valid marriage there.

Full details of the forms of qualifying connection can be found on the Church of England website by going to “Weddings” and then to the “frequently asked questions” section, where there is a link to the new law under the question “Where can I get married?”.  In summary, a qualifying connection will be that the person is or has previously been connected with the church or parish either directly or through a member of his or her family.  Further details and guidance are available from the Registry.

The full guidance from the House of Bishops is to be found on the Church of England website here, or by entering 'Marriage Measure' into the search engine on the website. This will give access to the full House of Bishops Marriage Measure 2008 Guidance document, to frequently asked Q&A, and also the Marriage Measure Welcome Form, which acts as a detailed check list for connection as well as a basic administrative record.

The Welcome Form shows that, if either of the applicants can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, they will be likely to be able to be married in the church.

  • Were you baptised in the parish?
  • Is there a record of your confirmation in the record book of the parish?
  • Have you lived in the parish for at least six months at any time?
  • Have you habitually attended public worship in the parish for at least six months at any time?
  • Do your parents currently live in the parish?
  • Have your parents previously lived in the parish for at least six months at any time?
  • Have your parents habitually attended public worship in the parish for at least six months at any time?
  • Were your parents married in the parish?
  • Were your grandparents married in the parish?

There are still many questions about these recent changes, and the Registry will be pleased to help to resolve any uncertainties. Questions should always be raised as soon as possible to avoid difficulties.

Contact the Registry: 
01722 432390
Fax: 01722 411566

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