Well some really interesting news came out of England today, when the Church Of England announced that due to an omission on their part, over a million marriages that took place since 1980 may not be lawfully valid.
The problem started when the Church Of England decided to revise the Prayer Book in 1980, replacing the Book Of Common Prayer that dates back to 1662 with the Alternative Service Book, which has new wording, and which has continued to be used in the latest version of the Prayer Book, Commons Worship which came into use in 2006.
“So what exactly is the problem?” I am sure you are asking by now.
It seems that the Marriage Act of 1949 states that the wording for the Marriage Banns, the declaration that must be read out in church three times in the weeks before a wedding is held, must be the wording in the 1662 Book Of Common Prayer. Since the words were changed when the prayer book was revised, technically anyone who was married in the Church of England without the correct banns being read, is not lawfully married.
The original banns read as follows:
I PUBLISH the Banns of Marriage between M. of _____ and N. of _____. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, or third] time of asking.
The more modern wording however is somewhat different:
This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it.
Couples today are however still offered a choice as to which version of the service they would prefer to have:
The 1662 Solemnisation of Matrimony (from the Book of Common Prayer)
The 1966 Solemnisation of Matrimony (Alternative Services, Series 1)
The 2001 Marriage Service (Common Worship: Services and Prayers for The Church of England)
Because the words of the banns are not the official words as defined by law, even though they are not used in the marriage ceremony itself, any wedding that has taken place that did not have the correct version of the banns used, is technically unlawful.
This of course immediately makes anyone whose marriage is less than perfect think “well if I’m not married, then I don’t have to worry about getting divorced”, however the law looks differently on this,
The 1949 Marriage Act does contain robust clauses to protect a marriage that has been entered into in “good faith” by both parties, in other words, if a couple both believe that they are married, then they are protected.
There is one future wedding however that will no doubt cause the law to be modified quickly, and that is the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011.
The General Synod, which is the Church Of England’s Parliament, must therefore make revisions to the law, receive Royal Assent (because The Queen is the Head of the Church Of England), and be passed into law before the date of the wedding.
I think we can all safely agree that Her Majesty is unlikely to hold up her side of the approval.
It will be interesting to see if any divorce petitions arise out of this failure to update the 1949 Marriage Act, and whether they are seen to be valid or not.
The Daily Mail
Solemnization of Matrimony