Ecclesiastical Committee Two-Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Report


The Measure amends the law so as to make it easier for those who have certain types of clearly defined connections with a parish to marry there even though they are not parishioners. The Measure does this principally by extending to them the parishioner's legal right to marry in the parish church.


The Measure:

  • gives to a person who has a "qualifying connection" with a parish the same right to marry in the parish church as a parishioner has under the existing law;
  • lists the "qualifying connections", namely that:
    • the person concerned was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
    • the person concerned or a parent of that person has had his or her usual place of residence in the parish for a period of at least 6 months, or has habitually attended public worship in the parish for a period of at least 6 months. (The period may be continuing or at any time in the past, except that in the case of a parent it must have been during the lifetime of the person concerned); or
    • a parent or grandparent of the person concerned was married in the parish.
  • sets out the cases where the marriage may be solemnised in a place of worship which is not a parish church but is within the parochial system, but excludes all cathedrals;
  • deals with the information to be provided to establish a qualifying connection and the guidance which the House of Bishops is to issue on this;
  • deals with the procedure to be followed, in particular as regards banns; and
  • extends the common licence procedure, under which special permission can be given for the marriage to take place without banns, to cases where there is a qualifying connection.


The Measure does not affect the legal principles governing:

  • the existing rights of parishioners, including the provisions under which, in many cases, a person who is not resident in the parish but who has worshipped there regularly for at least 6 months can apply to be entered on the church electoral roll of the parish and can thus acquire the right to marry there; or
  • the issue of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Special Licences in cases where the Measure does not apply. For example, where a couple wish to marry in a parish with which one of them has a genuine connection but that connection is not listed in the Measure, or where they wish to be married in a place of worship not covered by the Measure such as a school or college chapel, it will still be possible for them to apply for a Special Licence with the support of the minister of the church or other place of worship concerned.


The functions of the Legislative Committee of the General Synod are laid down by section 3 of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. When the General Synod has given Final Approval to a Measure, the Legislative Committee submits the Measure to the Ecclesiastical Committee, together with "comments and explanations". If the Ecclesiastical Committee wishes to invite General Synod representatives to discuss the Measure with it, the Legislative Committee makes arrangements to provide such representatives, and if necessary a conference can be held between the two Committees.

1.  The Legislative Committee of the General Synod, to which a Measure entitled the Church of England Marriage Measure ("the Measure") has been referred, has the honour to submit the Measure to the Ecclesiastical Committee with these Comments and Explanations.


2.  The Measure makes limited changes to the law so as to make it easier for those who have certain types of clearly defined connections with a parish to marry there even though they are not parishioners. It does this principally by extending to them the parishioner's legal right to marry in the parish church. It does not affect the existing rights of parishioners.


3.  Under the present law any person, whether or not he or she is a member of the Church of England, in general has a right to marry, following the publication of banns, in the parish church of a parish where he or she is resident. A person who is entered on the church electoral roll of the parish[2] has the same right to marry there. (The right to marry in the parish also extends to some other churches and chapels which are not parish churches but which are within the parochial system).

4.  However, save in a very few exceptional cases, a person who wishes to marry according to the rites of the Church of England in any place other than a church or place of worship where he or she has a right to marry under the principles set out in the previous paragraph must apply for a Special Licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This requires the support of the minister responsible for the church or other place where the person concerned wishes to marry. The grant of a Special Licence is not automatic, because it is a matter within the Archbishop's discretion. The other possibility, for those who wish to marry in a parish church or in some other places of worship within the parochial system and who are qualified to be entered on a church electoral roll, is to worship habitually in the parish for at least 6 months, and then have themselves entered on the roll of the parish concerned.


5.  The reason the General Synod decided that the changes in the law set out in the Measure were needed was that a substantial number of couples who come to the Church of England to be married wish to do so in a place where neither of them is resident or on the church electoral roll, but which has a particular significance for at least one of them and with which he or she feels an enduring connection. For example, the couple may wish to marry in a parish where one of them grew up and his or her parents have their home, and which he or she also regards as "home" even though he or she is not resident there as a matter of law, or in a parish where one of them has recently lived and been a member of the worshipping congregation, even though he or she has now moved elsewhere.

6.  In order to do that under the present law, at least one of the couple will need to qualify for entry on the church electoral roll, or they will need to obtain a Special Licence. However carefully these rules are explained, couples may find the requirements complex, time-consuming and generally somewhat daunting. They may therefore feel that the Church's welcome to them is less than wholehearted and that it is placing obstacles in their way. That in turn creates pastoral problems for clergy in dealing with such cases, while the legal requirements also add to the time and effort the clergy have to devote to the formalities preceding the marriage.

7.  The Church is strongly committed to encouraging and supporting marriage in general and marriage in church in particular. It likewise wishes to be able to welcome and support individual couples who come to it to be married. Given that the Church recognises marriage as one of God's gifts to humanity, rather than as an exclusively Christian sacrament, that welcome extends to couples irrespective of whether they are members of the Church of England. Moreover, when a couple come to the Church in order to make their life-long commitment to each other in marriage before God, that is an opportunity for the Church to further its mission not only to the couple themselves but also to their families and others who come to the marriage service.


8.  In view of this, the Measure extends the range of churches and other places of worship in which a couple have the right to be married following the calling of banns, and without the need for a Special Licence. It confers on a person who has a connection of one of the types listed in the Measure - referred to in the Measure and in these Comments and Explanations as a "qualifying connection" - the same right to marry in the parish church as a parishioner has. In addition, the Measure extends the "common licence" procedure to cases where the new right under the Measure would apply (see paragraphs 84-85 below).


9.  The draft Measure as introduced into the Synod for First Consideration in July 2006 was prepared by a Marriage Law Working Group chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, which had continued the work of earlier groups since 1999. As most of the existing law relating to Church of England marriages is to be found in statutes which apply to all marriages, whether civil or according to religious rites, the (then) Department for Constitutional Affairs was consulted on the proposals in the draft Measure, and had no objection. (There was further informal consultation with staff of the Ministry of Justice, which succeeded to the relevant functions of the Department of Constitutional Affairs, during and after the Measure's progress through the Synod, and they took the same view.)

10.  The legislation was received positively by the Synod and was committed to a Revision Committee. As the Synodical process continued, the Measure received very careful scrutiny from the Revision Committee and then at a Revision Stage before the full Synod in February 2007. The Synod recommitted the Measure to the Revision Committee for further consideration, and the Revision Committee was permitted to consider any amendments put to it even if they had already been considered by the Committee or by the Synod. Following this a Further Revision Stage in full Synod took place in July 2007. The Revision process as a whole resulted in a number of significant amendments largely designed to simplify the Measure, but left its broad principles and objectives unaltered. The Final Drafting Stage, which dealt with some points of detail, was taken later at the July 2007 meeting of the Synod, and the Synod then proceeded to give the Measure Final Approval by overwhelming majorities.

11.  The voting on the Measure at the end of the Final Approval debate was as follows:

Ayes Noes


12.  It has been clear from the outset that both clergy and couples will need guidance on the Measure and how it is to be implemented. The Measure requires the House of Bishops to issue guidance on the exercise by a minister (or a person with authority to issue common licences) of his or her functions in deciding whether a person who wishes to rely on the Measure has provided sufficient information to establish a qualifying connection with the parish concerned. In general, this guidance will deal with essentially practical points on the information needed in order to satisfy the minister etc that a qualifying connection exists.

13.  Staff of the Mission and Public Affairs Division of the Archbishops' Council are also developing training materials which will be made available to the dioceses in order to assist clergy in making use of the opportunities presented by the Measure. Suitable individuals to deliver the training for dioceses have been identified and have themselves received appropriate training.

2   In these Comments and Explanations, a person who is resident in the parish or entered on the church electoral roll is referred to as a "parishioner". Back

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