Ecclesiastical Committee Two-Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Report

C. Section 1(2), (10) and (11)—Places where marriages may be solemnised under the Measure

63.  Where a person has the right to marry in a parish under the Measure, section 1(1) gives him or her the right to marry in the parish church of that parish; if there is more than one parish church, there is a right to marry in either or any of them. In addition, section 1(2) extends this right to any building in the parish which is not a parish church but which is licensed for public worship and has been designated by the bishop as a parish centre of worship.

64.  Under the existing law a couple may also marry in a public chapel licensed by the bishop for marriages and the publication of banns provided at least one of the couple is resident in the geographical district for whose residents the chapel is licensed and which is defined by the licence. Under section 1(10), a person who has a qualifying connection with a parish which or part of which lies within that district may marry under the Measure in the licensed chapel.

Matters raised before the Revision Committee and the General Synod


65.  The main issues raised before the Revision Committee and the Synod regarding this group of provisions related to cathedrals. Approximately a third of the Church of England's cathedrals are parish churches, although among them the size and importance of the parish varies widely. A person who is resident in a cathedral parish or on its church electoral roll has the right to marry in the cathedral, just as a parishioner of any other parish has the right to marry in the parish church, and nothing in the Measure affects this or the possibility of an individual acquiring the right to marry in the cathedral by entry on the church electoral roll after 6 months' habitual worship. A couple may also apply for a Special Licence to marry in any cathedral, whether or not it is a parish church, if one of them has a genuine connection with the cathedral and the cathedral authorities support the application, and again nothing in the Measure restricts that possibility.

66.  If the Measure had contained no special provisions regarding cathedrals, it would have extended to cathedrals which are parish churches but not to other cathedrals. However, the Measure as introduced into the Synod provided that the new right under section 1(1) was not to apply to any cathedral. The reasons were that cathedrals, whether or not they are parish churches, have legal responsibilities in relation to the diocese as a whole which parish churches which are not cathedrals do not have, and that cathedrals also undertake a wide range of other activities which are not found in most parish churches. Thus it was put to the Working Group that creating new categories of people with the right to be married in a cathedral would detract from other key aspects of the cathedral's ministry, including its diocesan responsibilities, by making additional calls on the time of cathedral clergy and lay staff, and by taking part or all of the cathedral itself out of use for other purposes while a marriage is taking place and for a time before and after the marriage service.

67.  The written submissions which the Revision Committee received from the Association of English Cathedrals showed that some cathedrals would not wish the Measure to apply to them at all, while some, particularly among those which were parish churches, would welcome the possibility of conducting more marriages without the need for a Special Licence and using the qualifying connection criteria or some of them. However, the general view among the cathedrals was that while they would welcome a purely discretionary power for individual cathedrals to opt into the Measure if they wished, they considered it would be better for the Measure to exclude the cathedrals completely than to require any cathedral to apply the Measure against its will, as this could create significant problems and costs.

68.  A number of proposals were put to the Revision Committee to allow cathedrals or some of them to opt into or opt out of the Measure, or to create their own individual policies for marriages in the cathedral in the light of the Measure and without the need for Special Licences. A proposal was also put to the full Synod to allow cathedrals which are or include parish churches to opt into the Measure. All these were considered but rejected, because of the general need for consistency and fairness to all couples and because of the same issues under the HRA as are outlined in paragraphs 30-33 above.

69.  The advice given to the Revision Committee and the Synod on the HRA was that if a cathedral was given some kind of discretion to opt into or opt out of the Measure, or to create its own marriage policy, the discretion would have to be demonstrably exercised on reasonable grounds which provided an objective justification for the decision, and that would be difficult to establish. Moreover, any such discretion would almost inevitably lead to inconsistencies in practice between the cathedrals of different dioceses. This would be undesirable in itself, and it could lead to a challenge under the HRA to a decision by a particular cathedral to remain outside the Measure. Indeed, one of the main concerns about the various suggested discretions was that they would be likely to result in pressure on those cathedrals which did not wish to come within the Measure to change their minds, however cogent their arguments for not doing so.

70.  A further argument which was raised against treating cathedrals which are parish churches differently from other cathedrals was that the cathedrals constitute a group of churches with special characteristics and governed by their own special legislation, and that the general thrust of that legislation in recent years has been to treat the cathedrals as a single category, minimising the differences between those which are and are not parish churches. This would point to the desirability of treating all cathedrals in the same way under the Measure.

71.  Thus the Revision Committee decided to retain the original provision excluding all cathedrals from the Measure. When the Measure returned to the full Synod for a second time, the Synod itself reconsidered the provision, which is now section 1(11), in the light of a proposal that cathedrals which are parish churches should automatically come within the Measure. However, in the light of the arguments summarised in paragraphs 68-70 above, the Synod again decided to retain the original provision on cathedrals as it stood.


72.  Some churches describe themselves as "greater churches", but these are not a legally defined group. In general they are likely to host a much wider range of activities than "ordinary" parish churches and, for example, to receive many more visitors. Taking that into account, a proposal was put to the Revision Committee that they should be excluded from the Measure in the same way as cathedrals, or allowed to "opt out". However, this was rejected. The Revision Committee recognised that legally the "greater churches" are indistinguishable from other parish churches, in particular in that they do not share the legal responsibilities in relation to the diocese as a whole which are placed on cathedrals. Given that, and the problems in defining the "greater churches" in the legislation plus the issues over "opting" whether to come within the Measure explained in paragraphs 30-36 above, the Revision Committee concluded that the "greater churches" should be treated in the Measure in the same way as other parish churches which are not cathedrals.


73.  The Measure does not apply to "non-parochial" places of worship which lie within a parish but are outside the parochial system. Thus a marriage in, for example, a university, college or school chapel outside the parochial system will still require a Special Licence. The Revision Committee was satisfied that this was the appropriate procedure for dealing with such cases, and thus rejected a proposal to bring them within the Measure. Likewise, a marriage in a Royal or other Peculiar which is not only outside the parochial system but also outside the boundaries of any parish, such as Westminster Abbey, will still require a Special Licence. The Revision Committee agreed that the Measure should remain as drafted in this respect.


74.  The Revision Committee also examined a completely different proposal, namely to provide in the Measure for specially designated "wedding churches" in any given area, where couples could be married by local clergy after full marriage preparation, instead of giving couples the right to be married in the parish with which one of them has a particular connection. It was suggested that this proposal could be combined with some kind of requirement for a qualifying connection, or could operate without the need for any such connection.

75.  However, the Revision Committee rejected this idea. It considered that such an approach would fundamentally change the basis of the law on marriage in the Church of England, which as it stands is rooted in the parochial system. It would also fundamentally alter the basis of the Measure, and the Revision Committee agreed with the Working Party (which had also rejected the idea) that the best way of achieving the Measure's objectives was to build on the existing system rather than to adopt this radically different approach.

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