This is a turn up for the books. Between 1980 and yesterday there has been complete equality between most marriages conducted in English, Anglican churches and the partnerships of those "living in sin."


Two million husbands and wives are not lawfully married because of a Church of England blunder, it was revealed yesterday. Their church weddings are legally invalid because the vicars who married them used the wrong form of words, CofE lawyers admitted. The error affects more than a million weddings celebrated over the past 30 years in churches across England.

The Church’s blunder involves the wording of the banns, which must be read out in church three times in the weeks before a wedding. The banns ask if anyone knows of any good reason why the marriage should not be allowed. Under the Marriage Act of 1949, the wording of the banns must be that set out in 1662 the Book of Common Prayer. This asks the congregation ‘if any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony.’ However, 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 CofE’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.

General Synod voted to correct the blunder yesterday.

Leading CofE lawyer, Charles George, told the Synod: ‘This matter has troubled ecclesiastical lawyers for some time. There is a doubt over the legality of marriages conducted in the intervening period.’

A leading secular divorce lawyer, Jeremy Abraham of the Matthew, Arnold and Baldwin firm, said: ‘Technically, I fear this means many marriages are invalid. But the marriage legislation effectively says that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it is a duck. If both parties believe they are married, then they are protected.’

Synod documents described the unlawful banns as ‘unfortunate’.

Well, that's good news. It appears that as long as gay couples go around walking and talking like ducks then they are just as married as anyone who is morally righteous enough to have been married in church.

Now, I feel a limerick is in order to commemorate all this.

What goes with marriage and rhymes with "duck," Boaz?



  1. The CofE has banns; to get married anywhere else, including other places of worship, you need a license. Why has this anomaly never been fixed? It seems especially designed to cause confusion. (I know one couple who discovered on their wedding day that they couldn’t get married, because no one had told them the banns needed to be called in both their churches.)

  2. Much as it pains me, as an Englishman, to say the French are right on something, Rosie, I do think they are spot on in insisting everyone has a civil marriage with church weddings afterwards being an optional extra. I’d love to see the paperwork and legal aspects jettisoned.