Marrriage Myths

Was at a very good consultation last night run by the Equality Network on proposed changes to marriage law in Scotland.

I was very struck by how little people understand about marriage law already. It makes it quite difficult sometimes to have much of a coherent discussion about proposed change when everyone has muddled ideas about what the law is already.

Here’s a few marriage myths that were floating about last night.

  • You can be considered to be married by living together – so-called marriage by habit and repute or “common-law marriage”. Not true any more and in any case always much more limited than people think – the courts won’t recognise any such marriage unless it can be shown to have begun before 4 May 2006. There’s no provision now for recognising such irregular marriages if they began after that date. (And it would be a bit of a legal bother to try to get one recognised from before that). There never was anything called common-law marriage in Scotland.
  • You have to get married before a Registrar as well as getting married in church by a priest/minister/rabbi.  Not so. Couples have to register their intent to marry with a Registrar before getting married whether or not they get married in a church or registry office. The Registrar then prepares the paperwork. In the case of a religious marriage the Marriage Schedule is issued to the couple who present it to the person conducting the wedding who completes it and it is subsequently returned to the Registrar.
  • You can get married by a priest without having to deal with the Registrar. Not true – see above.
  • If gay people could get married then Bed and Breakfast owners would have to give them a double bed. Irrelevant – discrimination with regards to goods and services is already outlawed and has nothing to do with marital status. (Though note that there is currently an appeal going on in England over this).
  • Before you get married in church you need to get the priest to read your banns. Not true in Scotland. The concept of reading banns has no place and no legal function. Not even for couples where one party comes from Scotland who are getting married in England where their vicar has told them to get their banns read in their own parish in Scotland. You can’t do it, the vicar is wrong.
  • Marriage is all about the woman becoming the property of the man.  Actually marriage law in Scotland is quite egalitarian. It is the marriage of equals.
  • The woman has to be given away at a marriage in church. Not so, the Scottish Episcopal Church’s service does not include this historical anachronism. (It is inserted only for couples who demand it and by priests who will let them).
  • There’s no difference between marriage and civil partnership, it’s just semantics, it’s all in the name. No, they are different institutions with different laws governing them though they give very similar rights. Couples wanting to register a Civil Partnership can do so almost anywhere except in church.
  • You can have a secular marriage in church.  Not legally you can’t, no matter what form of words is used by the officiant.
  • You can chose whatever readings you like in a marriage in a Registry Office. No, you can’t have any religious readings or religious music. (Try asking for Robbie Williams’s Angels and see what happens). You can have non-religious readings in church and non-religious music, provided the officiant agrees. Legally you have more freedom of choice over your readings and music in a religious ceremony than a civil ceremony.


  1. It’s all so much easier in Scotland! I always feel like I’ve stepped into the middle ages (I’ve already stepped into middle age…) when I do weddings down here. It’s good to see this discussion happening in Scotland and I hope it results in a positive conclusion. Hopefully, we’ll catch up down here one day.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Somewhat by the by -I always thought it would be a nice idea to have the two parties to a marriage enter separately, surrounded by friends and family, and converge at the same time at the chancel arch or wherever. A symbol of two groups coming together. Not giving-away, but coming-together, yet an acknowledgement that it is not just two individuals. Because while it IS just two at root, in an ideal world, it is a whole nexus of support.

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    But while we wait for marriage equality, I totally support Civilly Partnered friends and family who wish it in considering them married. What a mess the present situation is.

  4. william says

    I must admit to feeling a strong empathy with your implicit frustration – “It makes it quite difficult sometimes to have much of a coherent discussion about proposed change when everyone has muddled ideas about what the law is already.”
    The subject of our concerns would be a little different, however – you are concerned about “how little people understand about marriage law already”. My concerns are not so much about marriage law, but about how little people within the Church of Jesus Christ understand about the divine institution of marriage. Ofcourse this God given gracious provision of God for his creation has to have legal and physical frameworks, which will vary both historically and geographically, but the relationship itself is what God himself has formed according to Jesus Christ himself.
    It is easy to understand why many outside the church do not recognise this divine institution – many would choose not to recognise the existence of its author – it’s not so easy to understand the failure to recognise it within the Church of His Son.

    • William, the ‘divine institution of marriage’, whatever you or I or Kelvin or anyone else might personally understand by that, is not the subject under discussion by the Scottish Government. It is up to each individual and each faith group to decide that for themselves – marriage legislation protects religious freedom for everyone and would continue to do so if the proposed alterations to that legislation were to be made. The subject under discussion by the Scottish Government is, in fact, marriage law, which means that this is all actually highly relevant.

  5. My concerns are not so much about marriage law, but about how little people within the Church of Jesus Christ understand about the divine institution of marriage.

    surely you’ll concede that, as matter of historical fact, marriage was a secular institution that got taken over by the church, rather than the other way about?

    Also curious that conservatives appear no problem with all the other One, True Heterosexist Christian Sacraments going on in the world (Muslims, atheists, humanists, others..) yet single out gay people as the one group of people who can’t have (any kind of) Marriage.

    • william says

      “surely you’ll concede that, as matter of historical fact, marriage was a secular institution that got taken over by the church, rather than the other way about?”
      It’s precisely that statement that I do not concede,Ryan.
      Not a single part of it – it is not a historical fact [if you think it is, what is your primary source?], marriage as given by God is not a secular institution [although it is for all His creation],it was not taken over by the church [what the church is defined to be will be crucial here ofcourse], it is not the other way about!!
      On the other hand I agree totally, Beth, with your statement -” the divine institution of marriage ……is not the subject under discussion by the Scottish Government.”
      But what we as a Nation determine what marriage law will be for us, will necessarily include within its thinking and practice the divine institution of marriage. If we within the Church of Jesus Christ see the wisdom of this divine provision, and value it as a gracious gift of God for His creation, then surely we would want to guard it, indeed it is incumbent upon us to placard it for what it is, as divinely given – for the blessing that it is for every human society.

      • Could correspondents please note that I’m introducing a new variation to my comments moderation policy – all proof texts are being edited out of comments.

        I may subsequently deal severely with those who verb nouns, but I shall reserve judgement upon that for now.

      • If you’re seriously claiming that there was no marriages before the time of Christ then dare I suggest any half-decent history book – or, caveat emptor, Wikipedia – will suffice?

        And I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you’ll tend to go with the Reformist view of marriage, which pushes the clock forward a few centuries too of course!

        And if you’re claiming that all secular marriages are really versions of (or surely, in your world-view, parodies of?) The One True Necessarily Heterosexual Christian “Sacrament” of Marriage, then my point on Islamic, humanist etc etc weddings, which you ducked, is still highly pertinent.

        But Stephen Fry said that Shakespeare (as it were) chaired the noun-verbing committee, Kelvin! 😉

      • Mr Fry is very naughty so to suggest. However, should he chose to comment here, then I reserve the right to inclusion him.

      • Rosemary Hannah says

        I don’t see the smallest reason why the sacrificial love of two men or two women should not mirror the love between Christ and his Church. It is the nature of the love that makes this mirror, surely? Self-giving, self-emptying, seeking the best for the other, and in so seeking, aspiring to be the best that one can be. That love ain’t limited by gender.

      • Allow me to clarify my point, then, William:

        The divine institution of marriage is not the subject that is under discussion by the Scottish Government, and I do not wish it to be so. The rich tapestry of our society is made up of people of all faiths and people of no faith. Your interpretation of the Bible is evidently different to my interpretation of the Bible and our interpretations of the Bible are both of little interest to the person reading the Koran, while the person who has no belief in any God (and, incidentally, has not been barred from entering marriage on the basis of that non-belief) thinks that this is all irrelevant. We have the great privilege of living in a society that accepts more than one idea.

        Therefore, marriage law does not need to be and should not have anything to do with Christian teaching. It is a secular business. The recognition of this is how we maintain religious freedom for everyone, not just the people who agree with us.

  6. Just waiting for some real industrial-strength traditionalists to pop up here and quote Odo of Cluny……..

  7. william says

    Kelvin, I find your thinking about correspondents quoting sources for the statements they make quite intriguing – especially in this context. Unless ofcourse ‘proof texts’ carries baggage beyond simply quoting sources.
    Perhaps the reason for much muddled thinking about marriage law generally is because many do not quote sources for their understandings.
    Certainly the reason for much muddled thinking about marriage in the church is our reluctance to go back to original sources.
    Or, is this just an example of Alistair Campbell’s – “we don’t do ……. here” ?

  8. Agatha says

    William, if I remember O Grade Latin correctly (and I do) many marriage customs come from pre-Christian era Roman Law. And as Kelvin alludes to at the beginning, although it is not now possible, it was previously very common in Scotland for people to be married who had had no formal ceremony at all (Clive on Family Law).

    • william says

      Agatha – your reference to Roman marriage customs, like Ryan’s BC reference, and even when there is no formal ceremony at all, I had included under “….ofcourse this God given gracious provision …..will vary both historically and geographically, but the relationship itself is what God himself has formed ….”
      In the final part of the quote I was referring to the statement which is used in probably all christian marriage services – “what God has joined together let no man …”

      • The phrase what God has joined together let no man … does not appear in the Marriage Rite of the Scottish Episcopal Church nor is it used at weddings in St Mary’s.

        The declaration that is used now is this:

        Now that N. and N. have made these promises
        before God and before those gathered here,
        I declare that they are joined in marriage.

        William, on this topic as on other topics, you do appear to be speaking with extraordinary clarity as you proclaim to all the world the depth of your ignorance.

      • so in addition to inventing the One Flesh Christian Marriage, God also handily developed a secondary, secular version too? Doesn’t that mean, by definition, that He doesn’t just approve of those in the former category?

        And curious, given the apparent importance of the “what God has joined together” clause, that “conservatives” don’t seek to condemn divorce with the same fervor they apply to gay people.

  9. william says

    Whatever your perceptions of this fascinating blog, Kelvin, I don’t think it yet satisfies the criterion – “proclaim to all the world” !!

    • If a person publishes something in a public forum on the Internet, it is freely available for all the world to see and so they are declaring a willingness for all the world to see it. It is why many people think carefully about what of themselves they will put online. I doubt, for example, that the GMC actually read my blog or any of my social networking feeds, but I am aware that they can.

  10. And do you really think that “proof” texting is going to convince anyone of sense, William? Would the Orthodox not rather say that apologetics (even the good kind) are buttresses for ‘conclusions’ necessarily ‘reached’ on supernatural grounds, and that endevouring to fill the Holy Spirit’s role with some mickey mouse random quoting is neither ‘biblical’ nor liable to work?

    The point about “proof” texting is that it, as well as being a disservice to Holy Scripture, is that it does no such thing; one can take 100 evangementalists with the same “proof” text and their hit-rate (in terms of self-evidently reinforcing their ideology) will compare unfavourably with the proverbial monkeys-with-typewriters-trying-to-come-up-with Shakespeare.

    I realise that it might be fun to launch into impromptu sermons – after all preachers in evangelical churches usually drone on for 45 minutes, and would rattle on for 2 hours if they thought they’d get away with it, like those mentally deficient windbag egotists one finds in the early stages of the X-Factor -but it’s a bit much to assume that everyone who happens to disagree with your *opinion* on certain verses is rejecting the Bible. “Proof” texting inanities would get you laughed out of a first year undergraduate English Literature course discussing mere novels; is it really respectful – let alone ‘wise’- to apply it to Holy Scripture?

    On top of which, when you touch on history (or liturgy) your are simply, demonstrably, factually wrong. I think Kelvin’s been enormously gracious on this blog in dealing with years of virtual hecklers who appear to think that he doesn’t know either theology or the Bible.

  11. While this debate has been carried on with a highly pleasing degree of civility I must object to ‘evangementalists’ and ‘mentally deficient.’ Perhaps, having spent the past year on a battery of anxiolytics and anti-depressants and attending psychiatric outpatients, I am hyper-sensitive. Or there again, perhaps some of your correspondents ought to wake up to the fact that the gay community is not alone in being the target of deeply unpleasant stigmatisation…..

    • Uncle Al,

      I’m not exactly a stranger to psychological problems myself, and am entirely on board with the destigmatisation campaigns of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Re-Think and others. That’s why “Deficient” was deliberately chosen instead of “Mentally Ill”. Apologies, however, for any offence caused.

      Similarly, “evangementalism” is a useful pormanteau used to denote a particular ideological strain :
      – not an ad hom slur.

      • I don’t accept this use of ‘deficient’ as a more acceptable form than ‘ill’. It is still a pejorative usage. And I would have hoped that your own experience of the business might have taught you some sensitivity and awareness to say nothing of consideration for fellow-sufferers.

    • And I ,of course, agree that comparing certain types of evangelical Christians to the mentally ill is a grave slur (on the latter)

  12. Well, having got that out of the way, and before we start a debate about gay people being allowed to call other people faggots, black people being allowed to use otherwise unpleasant epithets and disabled people having ownership of the word cripple, I think we will say that our debates might be more considerably more elegant and stylish if we refrained from “evangementalist”.

    As I’ve said before, exposing silly thinking is considerably more annoying to people than calling them names.

  13. Surely one can do both? 😉

    Duly noted, won’t happen again. Soz.

    • william says

      Isn’t it sad that within the Church of Jesus Christ we need to have such rules of civility spelt out. Our love and care for one another’s wellbeing not only for this life but the next ought to mould our relations with one another,surely.
      How will an unbelieving world learn the character of our God, if his children do not share and exhibit the family likeness?
      By the way Ryan, who was arguing for proof texting?

      • No William, it isn’t sad, it is a consequence of our creativity and simply a partof sharing space together. There are enough real things to get sad about without making mountains out of molehills.

      • Engaging in proof-texting, suggesting as it does that the method hasn’t been examined, is worse, not better than, actually offering an argument “for proof texting”, William.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    And while we are in confessional mode, if I thought there was the SLIGHTEST chance of anybody listening I would happily preach for 45 mins, and I am reasonably far up the candle … it is a temperament thing.

  15. Just one final point before I softly and suddenly vanish away from this website. Recently, as a result of my ongoing psychological troubles, I have been exploring a return to some sort of religious belief, advised on the one extreme by an old friend from my days as a Piskie ordinand, and on the other being prayed for by another old friend who is now a member of the Third Order of the Carmelites. I can’t say some of what I’ve seen here, from all stances, has helped the process. By their fruits, eh? I imagine that I’ll stay agnostic and listen to lots of Tallis….in Latin.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      Yeees – but actually the ‘fruit’ is that although we argue and sometimes we hurl insults, in the end, we get it together and keep on talking to each other. Not that we do not quarrel, but that, by and large, we make it up again.

  16. Al,
    My own experiences cover more than a decade, The Priory, and more pills and disorders than I care to name. On balance, most fellow-travellers I’ve met , although of course challenging tabloid myths on dangerousness etc, would very much not go along with the idea that all references to the mind outwith the purely diagnostic ought to be struck from our collective vocabularies. Mentally ”fragile” , for example, does not mean mentally ill.
    However, I did of course apologise, and take Kelvin’s point that this is not the place for off-piste debates on language

  17. rosemary –
    I myself wish I was Bono at least as much as any evangelical (and have done since I was 12!) so, although that doesn’t make the stagefillng impulse any nobler, am quite as of need of the confessional too! 🙂

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