Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by the Quakers (MB 34)

1. Introduction

1.1 Quakers support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as a way of extending Quaker marriage to Quaker same sex couples. W e are pleased that it does so in a way that would not incur the disproportionate charges that have been quoted to our local meetings for register ing Meeting Houses as places for the conduct of Civil Partnerships in religious premises. This memorandum is offered as supplementary evidence to my oral evidence of February 14 th 2013.

1.2 The Bill provides in its Clause 5 for a right to ‘opt in’ to conduct religious ceremonies. We are satisfied that the relevant governing authority for these purposes is correctly defined as ‘the recording clerk for the time being of the Society of Friends in London.’ We hope that, in time, other denominations will feel able to ‘opt in’ but Quakers would not support any legislation that compelled an individual to act in a way that is contrary to his or her conscience.

2. Quaker wedding procedure

2.1 Quaker weddings have their origin in the persecution of the seventeenth century. Quakers devised their marriage procedure to combin e a sense of pastoral care and oversight with the need to demonstrate to civil authorities that their procedure was a safeguard against clandestine marriage. [1]

2.2 Current Quaker wedding procedure is set out in Chapter 16 of our Quaker Faith & Practice 16.04:

"Quaker marriage procedure is not an alternative form of marriage available to the general public, but it is for members and those who, whilst not being in formal membership, are in unity with its religious nature and witness."

2.3 A Quaker wedding takes place in silence during which any present may speak in ministry. During the course of silent worship the couple stand, take each other by the hand and exchange declarations of commitment to in prescribed words:

‘Friends, I take this my friend XXX, to be my husband/wife, promising through divine assistance (or with God’s help) to be unto him /her a loving and faithful husband/wife, so long as we both on earth shall live.’

2.4 The couple then sign the Quaker marriage certificate which is read aloud by the registering office r. During the remainder of the meeting those present , if moved to speak, may support the couple with vocal ministry . After the meeting a civil marriage certificate is completed by the couple, two witnesses and the registering officer . All present at the meeting sign the Quaker wedding certificate. Quaker marriages are seen not as a merely civil contract but as a religious act. The civil and religious aspects of the wedding are united in th is form of w orship. Quakers marry each other in the presence of God. Those present witness the marriage and by participating in the meeting agree to support it. [2]

3. History of Quaker marriage

3.1 Quaker marriages have been conducted s in ce the late 1650s. Quakers worked to design a regular form of marriage certificate from 1677. [3] A Quaker wedding certificate signed by those present and kept by the monthly meeting was considered legal evidence of marriage by secular authorities. Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753 [4] first gave implicit statutory recogni tion to Quaker marriages and exempt ed them from a r equirement of the general law that marriages be s o lemnised in an Anglican Church. Quaker marriages were explicitly recognised in the Marriage Act 1836 . This together with the Registration Act 1836 provided for a system of state registration o f marriages that still applies in England a nd Wales. T he Marriage Act 1949 continues to make special provision for Quakers , enabling them to appoint their own registering officers for registering marriages according to Quaker usage , without the need for a ci vil registrar to be present .

4. Quaker decision to support same sex marriage

4.1 For many years Quakers have been considering the significance of same sex relationships. In 1963, a booklet ‘Towards a Quaker view of sex’ [5] affirmed the equal value of loving same sex relationships. Our 1995 book of ‘ Quaker Faith & Practice’ (effectively the constitution of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) In Britain) adopted a passage from the booklet as follows:

"It is the nature and quality of relationship that matters….the same criteria seem to us to apply whether a relationship is heterosexual or homosexual." [6]

4.2 Since Y early Meeting in 2009 Quakers have been seeking to celebrate same sex marriages in Meeting Houses in exactly the same way as we celebrate heterosexual marriages .

4. 3 The text of M inute 2 3 of 2009 Yearly Meeting r eads :

" We are being led to treat same sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses. The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary. "

The minute went on to ask Meeting for Sufferings, our standing representative body, both to revised our religious practice and to engage with government to seek a change in the law.

"We therefore ask Meeting for Sufferings to take steps to put this leading into practice and to arrange for a draft revision of the relevant sections of Quaker faith and practice, so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are. We also ask Meeting for Sufferings to engage with our governments to seek a change in the relevant laws so that same sex marriages notified in this way can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages celebrated in our meetings." [7]

4. 4 Quakers in Britain welcome the Marriage (Same Sex Couples Bill) as giving effect to our Minute of June 2009 and appreciate the steps that have been taken to accommodate our values and beliefs . Quakers have throughout our history placed a high value on individual conscience. We accordingly affirm the religious liberty of those who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages, not to be compelled to do so when they become lawful. We consider it is the role of the state to guarantee the right to religion, conscience and belief in an i mpartial manner. We therefore support the ‘opt in’ provisions in the Bill.

5. Background information

5.1 Quakers, known formally as the Religious Society of Friends, have their origin in the mid seventeenth century. Since their foundation Quakers have had a strong commitment to equality and worked for peaceful and effective responses to violence and social injustice. Quakers currently have 14,031 adult members and 8,711 adult attenders in Britain (i.e those in sympathy but not formal membership). There are 478 worshipping communities (Local Meetings) organised into 71 Area Meetings in Britain. [8]

February 2013


[1] Quaker Marriage, Edwards H Milligan, 1994

[2] For a fuller explanation regarding same sex marriage see ‘We are but witnesses’, Quaker Committee for Christian and Interfaith Relations, Friends House, September 2009

[3] Quaker Marriage, Edward Milligan, 1994

[4] 26 Geo II c 33

[5] Towards a Quaker view of sex, by a group of Friends, 1963 p 38 - 39

[6] Quaker Faith & Practice, 22.15

[7] Minute 25, Britain Yearly Meeting 31 July 2009.

[8] Tabular statement of membership complied for Yearly Meeting, Friends House, London 25 – 28 May 2012

Prepared 27th February 2013