Blunder means 1m Church of England marriages are ‘invalid’

Friday, November 26, 2010

LONDON - Lawyers for the Church of England have revealed that more than one million marriages in Britain are legally “invalid” all because the vicars who married them used the wrong form of words.

The error opens up the possibility that married partners heading for a divorce may try to deny their spouse maintenance, support or even a home on the grounds that they were never really married.he Church’s blunder involves the wording of the banns, which ask if anyone knows of any good reason why the marriage should not be allowed, and which must be read out in church three times in the weeks before a wedding.

Under the Marriage Act of 1949, the wording of the banns must be according to the Book of Common Prayer set out in 1662, which asks the congregation “if any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony”.

In 1980 the Church brought in a new prayer book, the Alternative Service Book, with a new marriage service and a new form of wording for the banns.

The modern wording has continued to be used in the Church of England’s latest prayer book, Commons Worship, adopted in 2006.

But when the new prayer books were approved, as is legally necessary, by Parliament, Church lawyers forgot to change the 1949 Marriage Act so that it included the new wording of the banns.

This asks if anyone knows a “reason in law” to stop the marriage.

Hence making the weddings, conducted under the form prescribed in the newer prayer books, unlawful.

Now the legal changes approved by the CofE’s parliament, the General Synod, must win Royal Assent and pass into law for any marriage to be considered lawful.

“The statute is out of step with the form of banns now prescribed,” the Daily Mail quoted senior Church lawyer Timothy Briden as telling members of the General Synod as they voted to correct the blunder.

“Many marriages have taken place under the new forms. I assure the Synod that this does not invalidate the banns neither does it invalidate the marriages which have taken place under such forms,” he stated.

Although the wording of the banns was unlawful, he said that the 1949 Marriage Act contained “robust” clauses to protect “a marriage that has been entered into in good faith by the parties”. (ANI)

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