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Marriage in the Church of England

Guidance on specific situations

What follows is a detailed set of guidance rules prepared by the Diocesan Registry.

It is written in formal language and its intended audience is clergy within the church who are seeking advice on specific situations. 

You may find it useful reading if you are unsure whether or not you can get married in the Church of England, but in most cases it is best to speak to your local vicar in the first instance.


“...according to our Lord's teaching, marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death us do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the natural society, help and comfort which one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity“(Canon B30.1)

Restrictions on marriage

The legal age below which marriages may not be contracted is 16, and any such purported marriage is void. Where either of the parties is under 18 the consent of parents or guardians should be obtained, in default of which a minor may apply to the court for permission to marry.

Marriages may not be solemnised between persons within the prohibited degrees of kindred and affinity set out in Canon B31.

A marriage may generally be lawfully solemnised only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The remarriage of divorced persons

No Anglican cleric can be compelled either to solemnise the marriage of any person whose former marriage has been dissolved and whose former spouse is still living, or to permit such a ceremony in the church of which he or she is the minister (Matrimonial Causes Act 1965).

The current rules of the Church of England on the re-marriage of divorced persons are set out in Advice to Clergy issued by the House of Bishops in 2002. This document contains advice on a number of issues appropriate to be addressed in these circumstances, and the General Synod Office has issued a Form and Explanatory Statement recommended for use in all such cases. 

The decision must in every case be one for the individual cleric concerned, but he or she will wish to take account of the Bishop`s views on the matter and may wish to consult the Bishop in particular cases.

Foreign nationals

Where either of the parties is a foreign national (and particularly a national of a country outside the European Union) the better practice is that the marriage should be by common licence rather than by banns, for the protection both of the couple and the officiating priest.

It is desirable that the parties applying for the licence produce evidence from the relevant embassy or consulate that no previous marriage exists, and that no impediment exists either to the marriage in England or to recognition of the marriage as valid in their respective home countries. 

An acceptable alternative is a valid marriage visa or licence issued by the U.K. immigration authorities. The applicants will be required to make a sworn statement carrying the sanction of perjury proceedings before a licence can issue.

The marriage of those who are not British citizens in a Registry Office has been much restricted since 2005, with the result that there has been a fall in the number of Registry Office marriages between those whose immigration status is doubtful and a corresponding increase in the number of those seeking to marry according to the Church of England rite. 

Clergy should be astute to ensure that those seeking to marry in an Anglican church are entitled to do so (as indicated above), that their identity is not in doubt and that they live where claimed (by inspecting passports and service invoices and retaining appropriate copies). 

Serious consequences may flow as a matter of civil law and clergy discipline if purported marriages turn out to be invalid because of bigamy, lack of consent or mental capacity, or for other reasons. 

In April 2011 the House of Bishops issued Advice to Clergy concerning sham marriages involving non-EU nationals, and Guidance to Clergy was issued by the UK Border Agency at the same time.

Qualifying connections

Under the Marriage Act 1949 a marriage is normally to be solemnised in the church serving the parish in which one of the parties resides. “Residence” is nowhere defined, and it is a matter of fact in each case whether or not a person genuinely resides in a parish. However, renting a room and leaving possessions in it without occupation is not residence for the purposes of the Act.

Exceptionally, a person who is on the electoral roll of a parish in which he or she does not reside may marry in the church of that parish. Six months` habitual attendance at public worship in that parish is required under the Synodical Government Measure 1969 before that person`s name can be added to the electoral roll.

The range of qualifying connections with a parish has been substantially extended by the Marriage Measure 2008. Any couple may now be married in any parish church if:

  • one of them was baptised in the parish or confirmed there and the confirmation has been entered in a church register belonging to the parish (which is done if the candidate has been prepared for confirmation there);
  • one of them has at any time usually resided or habitually worshipped in the parish for at least six months;
  • a parent of one of them has usually resided or habitually worshipped in the parish for at least six months during that person`s lifetime;
  • a parent or grandparent of one of them was married in the church.

The baptism, confirmation, marriage or worship referred to must have been according to the Church of England rite.

Preliminaries

It is sensible in all cases to produce evidence of identity at first interview.

Note that both marriage banns and common licences are valid for three months only.

Banns

Normally seven days` written notice should be given before first publication of banns. The minister will need to have the full names and addresses of the parties and to know the basis of entitlement of the parties to be married in his or her church.

The form of words for the reading of banns set out in the rubric to the Form of Solemnisation of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer is the form legally prescribed, but other forms having substantially the same effect (such as that in the rubric to the Common Worship Marriage Service) are permissible. 

In the case of a couple having a qualifying connection with the parish under the Marriage Measure 2008, the words “and having a qualifying connection with this parish” should be inserted after identifying the parish where each individual lives and before the enquiry about challenges and impediments. An alternative form of wording is set out in The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012.

Banns are to be published on three Sundays (not necessarily consecutive) preceding the solemnisation of the marriage during morning service or, if there is none on the appropriate Sunday, during evening service. 

Where no member of the clergy is officiating at the appropriate service, the banns may be published by a lay person; that individual then signs the banns book as the officiating minister, but the duty of entering the banns and certifying their publication remains that of the incumbent. 

Where a marriage is to take place in the church of a parish in or with which neither, or only one, of the parties resides or has a qualifying connection, then banns must be called not only in that church but in each of the parishes in which the parties actually reside as well. 

If there is no parish church in the parish of residence, or if the church is closed for repair, the banns may be called in an adjoining parish and the marriage solemnised there.

Following the enactment of The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012, banns may now be called either during the Principal Sunday Service only or at both the Principal Service and another service on the same day, but in the latter case that counts only as one calling of the banns. “Principal Service” means the service at which the minister considers the greatest number of habitual worshippers is likely to attend.

Common Licence 

Application for a common licence is made to a surrogate (a list of whom in this diocese is on this website). The papers are then forwarded to the Diocesan Registry for the licence to be issued. The grant of a common licence is discretionary; where one (or both) of the parties is not baptised, that party or those parties will be required to sign a declaration that he or she does not reject the Christian faith. It is however no longer necessary to refer such cases to the Bishop.

A common licence can only be granted where one of the parties has resided in the parish in which the marriage is to take place for at least 15 days before the licence is issued, or is on the electoral roll of that parish, or can demonstrate a qualifying connection under the Marriage Measure 2008 (as to which, see above). 

A licence may now be granted where either of the parties has been divorced and has a former spouse still living provided that the guidance to clergy issued by the House of Bishops (see above) has been followed. 

Surrogates are required to take great care to satisfy themselves that the statements made by applicants in these circumstances are true; the form promulgated by the House of Bishops is required to be produced, countersigned by the cleric concerned, together with a copy of the decree absolute for production to the Diocesan Registrar.

Special Licence

Such a licence, issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and authorising a marriage at any time or place without evidence of a qualifying connection, is issued only in unusual circumstances or where a marriage is to take place in a peculiar such as a school chapel or an Oxford College Chapel. 

Application must be made to the Faculty Office, 1 The Sanctuary, London SW1P 3JT (020 7222 5381;  faculty.office@1Thesanctuary.com).

Superintendant Registrar's Certificate

Very rarely (usually where a common licence would be appropriate but is not available) it may be desirable for a marriage to be solemnised on the authority of a (secular) Superintendant Registrar's certificate. This will only be appropriate where so indicated by the Diocesan Registrar.

Blessing following a Civil Wedding

The Marriage Act 1994 permits civil weddings on “approved premises” such as country houses. It specifically prohibits the use of religious services on approved premises; and the bishops advise against offering prayers or a blessing on such premises, because it would be too easy to diminish the spiritual dimension of Christian marriage. 

However they recognise that there may be a pastoral opportunity if such a request is made, perhaps by a separate ceremony in church at a later date. Queries on this subject should be addressed to the Bishop.

Further information

Suggestions for the Guidance of the Clergy with regard to the Marriage and Registration Acts is available from the Registrar-General, Smedley Hydro, Trafalgar Road, Southport PR8 2HH (0870 243 7788). 

Anglican Marriage in England and Wales may be obtained from The Faculty Office, 1 The Sanctuary, London SW1P 3JT (020 7222 5381). 

Marriage in Church after Divorce is a discussion document commissioned by the House of Bishops and is available from Church House Publishing. 

The Registry will also be pleased to advise.