Can you backdate a marriage?

Marriage Register

How interesting to learn about the new rules that will govern couples in England and Wales who have been in a Civil Partnership who wish to change (upgrade?) their relationship status to a marriage.

It seems that they are going to be able to do so easily and will receive a “backdated” marriage certificate which will state that their marriage began when they entered into their Civil Partnership.

I’ve some reservations about this but I know it will be warmly welcomed by many and it would be churlish to oppose it.

It is interesting though and there will be pressure now in Scotland for the Scottish Government to do the same.

Here are some obvious issues.

  • It is quite odd to think that some might find themselves to have been married without their, at the time they entered into their marriage, believing that they wanted to be married.
  • People who have been blessing Civil Partnerships are going to find that they’ve been blessing marriages all along.
  • People will be able, I think, to find themselves married who never went through any ceremony at all – they may simply have signed the papers. (This is a new thing).
  • There’s no doubt going to be some grumpiness from those who trusted the politicians who said that Civil Partnerships were definately not marriages and that it had been invented in order to do something different to marriage.
  • In a sense, it is rewriting history. People are going to have marriage certificates that date from a time when they were not in fact married at all.
  • The Bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords might feel that the Government has pulled the rug out from under them.
  • I think, that people can end up married whose proposal to marry has never been published either by banns on in a registrar’s office. I’ll be interested to see whether the registrars publish the names of those converting their status. My guess is that they won’t and thus people will end up married in law who have never had their intent to enter marriage advertised to anyone.
  • It is quite odd to think that a status like marriage can be backdated. Is there any comparable status that can be changed like that?

Personally, I would have preferred the solution to be that people would get new full marriage certificates when they requested to change their relationship status into a marriage. I think this because I think that marriage ought to require a clear statement of consent at the time it is entered into. (Indeed, many of the rules surrounding marriage are about getting unambiguous consent from both parties, freely given).

Interesting times. Uncomfortable times for the churches, particularly the Church of England.

Photo Credit – Dale Gillard Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)



  1. Harry Campbell says

    Am I right in thinking people who have had a sex change are entitled to rewrite history by having their birth certificate amended to reflect their current gender?

    • I think you are right in saying that people who have had a sex change can have a birth certificate issued in their new gender, yes. I’d forgotten about that.

  2. UKViewer says

    No doubt there will be a wopping charge for such a service? I just don’t understand the need, I can’t recall anyone lobbying for this change, although I have heard some asking for the ability to convert their civil partnership when appropriate, to be to be married. In short, a new decision and choice made about entering marriage.

    And the aspect of not being the subject of banns or posting by the Registrar just sounds as if someone is trying to do a shortcut to save money or office time, rather than a sensible measure to reduce the time span between bans or marriage.

    I wonder if there will be a special license arrangement to go along with all of this, and whether the CofE will decide to participate or not? Too me, it’s a no brainer. Marriage rules should be the same for all, whether same sex or straight.

    • There is nothing in the legislation that has been passed that allows the C of E to decide to participate so there’s no prospect of that.

      The main issue for the C of E is that it is going to get clergy who are married to a person of their own gender who have never gone through a public ceremony.

      • Bro David says

        Also, at least in the US, when a legal adpotion occurs, the birth certificate is amended and shows the adoptive parent(s) as the parent(s) on the certificate. I witnessed this first hand in Washington State in the early 90s. A single gay man, who was my aquaintance, adopted a teenager and his name was substituted for that of the boy’s original adoptive father, whose name had been substituted for that of the biological father when the boy was originally adopted at 2 weeks of age.

  3. Dharma Nicodemus Cuthbert says

    I think it is a great idea for people to be able to “upgrade” there status. However I do not agree that all civil partnerships, should be automatically updated. As you say, Kelvin, finding out what you are married and don’t know it, will be a shock for some people.
    What happens if one partner dies intestate, and then everyone realises that the surviving partner can take it all. Especially if some of the items were promised to a family member. That can and does cause friction.

    • No, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Civil Partnerships will only be changed to marriages if the couple request that they are changed to marriages.

      There is also no difference in inheritance law between couples who are married and couples who are in a Civil Partnership.

      • Dharma Nicodemus Cuthbert says

        Thanks for clearing that up I have re read it. I don’t know I managed to get that so wrong. Just blame it on the drugs, prescription ones, I hasten to add.
        As you know there is a rally in George Square on the Sunday 12th at 12:00, are you going along, or is it the service takes presidence?
        Again thank you for putting me straight, pun intended, and God bless.

        • On a Sunday morning and lunchtime I’m to be found in church.

          Although I like a good protest, I’m never going to be found at a rally for independence. I was pleased with the referendum result and glad that we have the chance to fight injustice on a UK wide basis.

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    There were of course plenty of people who entered a CP quite clear in their minds that they were entering a marriage – those who chose to have their CPs blessed in church often did and so did my son and son-in-law: the whole family were quite clear they were, in fact if not in law, entering a marriage. Interestingly, the lady who did my nails for the ceremony did not know CPs were distinct from marriages -and I suspect the hairdresser who abandoned my hair cut mid way when I started to discuss styles I might chose for the hat for the CP. I think she was so offended because she too saw it is a marriage.

    It would be kind of odd for people who have already exchanged morally binding vows before witnesses to have to go back and do it all again too.

    It is a bit of a mess – happily it is one mess that will be sorted in my lifetime.

  5. Not with that marriage register you can’t!
    I note it appears to have the coat of arms of the Commonwealth of Australia.

    But the points you make are good.
    I was always given to understand that sacramental theology teaches that the form and matter of the sacrament is the freely giving and exchanging of the vows.
    That the ministers of the sacrament are the spouses not the priest.
    And therefore we recognise marriages that have not necessarily been performed by Christian rites.
    I would argue that the gender of the spouses is irrelevant. But obviously everyone does not necessarily concur

    I think there is some argument for the Church getting out of the legal registering business….just as we have long been out of the business of legal registering of births and deaths.
    This does not prevent religious ceremony, and allows society to not let religious bodies dictate the rules of social engagement.
    It also probably strengthens religious rites as it frees them from the legal debate.
    And allows us to have the punch-up within our own freely chosen ecclesial communities
    Many historians note that “legal marriage” is something of a novelty, it was more about securing the property rights of the rich and powerful. The poor didn’t get legally married for well over 1600 years.

    This is probably a distraction but I blogged about it in the Australian context some time ago

    • Well, yes, I was aware it was an Australian Marriage Register.

      In Scotland, many churches have marriage registers but they have no legal status. Marriages in church are registered by filling in the Marriage Schedule which the local Registrar prepares for the couple.

      • This gets a bit long winded sorry:
        In Australia denominations nominate almost all their clergy to be registered religious celebrants. There are also registered civil celebrants. And I think I am right in saying that marriages (or what purports to be such) can only be performed by a registered celebrant (whether religious or civil).
        There is a specific prohibition against civil celebrants using religious services. Whether that means they are not allowed to read 1Cor 13 I don’t know. But I imagine plenty of civil weddings do use it.
        There may be a specific prohibition against religious celebrants performing non-religious ceremonies. But I am not so sure.
        Each celebrant has their own register, and we even issue numbered certificates, and each church has its own registers. (like the one in the picture)
        So you have to fill in countless documents!
        HOWEVER curiously if you want an official wedding certificate (say for proof of name change on a passport…which is an example with which I am familiar) the numbered certificate that either the religious celebrant or a civil celebrant provides the spouses with is NOT an adequate document.
        And you have to get one (at a cost of $39 of course) from the Registrar of Births, Death and Marriages

        We haven’t had Banns in Australia since the late 60s. I was asked to do it once …and indeed I don’t think we are prevented ….but it was more of an amusement than anything else!

  6. Augur Pearce says

    ‘People can end up married whose proposal to marry has never been published either by banns on in a registrar’s office’ – that has been possible in England by bishop’s common licence (or by special licence) for a very long time! The ‘licence’ is essentially a dispensation from the obligation to publish banns.

    I’m surprised that Scottish Episcopal churches don’t have their own marriage registers, not for legal purposes but for their own records. Don’t you keep confirmation registers, say? And in England many parish churches recorded marriages long before the statutory system began in 1836. So, indeed, did protestant dissenters whose ceremonies (arguably) lacked legal effect before that date.

    • We do keep marriage registers. They have no status in law.

    • You can’t be married in Scotland without notice being advertised publicly by a Registrar.

      • Bro David says

        Publishing Banns in the US or Mexico has no legal standing, however traditional it may be in some Episcopal/Anglican churches, but in Canada it does and that was how the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, the Revd Dr Brent Hawks, participated in the first two same gender marriages in Canada in 2001. The local registrar refused to accept that the marriages were valid and it resulted in a court case were the primary court and the appeals court ruled that current Canadian law that limited marriage to heterosexual couples violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The appeals court ruling in 2003 took immediate effect and in Ontario the registrars began issuing marriage licenses when the provincial attorney general stated he would not appeal to case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Eventually the Canadian federal government passed a Canada-wide civil marriage law that was gender neutral, but after court cases in 8 provinces and a territory, covering 90% of Canada’s population, had already established legal same gender marriages.

        It all started with MCC Toronto’s promulgation of banns.

        • We used to be able to marry people with banns in Scotland but not any more. This fact is sometimes lost on English vicars who ask you to publish banns for them and who get huffy when you say you can’t.

          • Bro David says

            Yes, damn that 4 sovereign countries with different laws equal one united nation thing!

            Sort of like the US with 50 sovereign states, not to mention Native American nations and territories like Puerto Rice, Guam and the Marshall Islands! Each has their own law regarding marriage and currently only 19? states, the District of Columbia and a handful of NA nations allow same gender marriage. However, there is a clause in the US federal constitution that applies to marriage and states that what is legally performed in one state must be recognized in another state. Whenever the US Supreme Court has to eventually decide conflicting appeals court decisions regarding same gender marriage, folks are in hopes that it will come down to the majority of justices recognizing that clause in the constitution.

            In Mexico it has happened differently. Mexico City passed same gender marriage into law. The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled the law constitutional. The next day the Supreme Court ruled that the marriages must be recognized in all states of the Mexican union. So if you want a legal same gender marriage in Mexico, go to Mexico City for your honeymoon, get married and return to your home state.

  7. My great-grandparents backdated their marriage date when the came to the US from Scotland so that my grandmother would bee seen as “legitimate” as her birthday was only a few months after their official marriage date. The things you learn when you do genealogy research.

  8. I’d of course dearly love to be able to back-date the words of the chap who told me my legal SS marriage in another commonwealth country was merely regarded as a civil partnership by the SEC ;-p

  9. I’m pretty sure when I studied Scots Law away back in the last millenium I heard that you could indeed backdate a marriage. People would go to court to have it confirmed that they had been married by habit and repute many years previously. And sometimes the other party may not have agreed, or even been dead by the time that happened.

  10. There is a further complication, only those couples who registered their civil partnership in England & Wales will be able to convert their partnership to a marriage under this legislation. Anyone else will be stuck in a civil partnership unable to marry even if they wanted to.

  11. Colin Backhouse says

    If a man and woman from England were married in a Church in the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with a proper ordained anglican minister can that marriage be registered and recognised retrospectively back in england?

  12. Am interested to note that the Register in your post seems to be of the Commonwealth of Australia…we are now happily within the marriage equality fold (after a tortuous process).
    At lunch recently with a fellow priest we both agreed that while the laws of Australia may have changed, neither of us (he 70+ and I, 65) will live to see The Anglican Church of Australia allowing marriage equality; being as we are totally bullied by the GAFCON politics of the 4 or 5 Evangelical Dioceses led by the Diocese of Sydney (I would suggest that they are happy to call everyone to scriptural fidelity…whilst the first to breach the call to NOT call sisters and brothers to the secular courts…and then to bring the blessed Owen Dowling to the secular courts…because he chose to ordain women!.

Speak Your Mind