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.