HC Deb 01 July 1819 vol 40 cc1503-5
Mr. W. Smith

having moved the commitment,

Lord Castlereagh

urged the propriety of not pressing the bill further in the present session. He wished not to express any decided opinion as to the measure; but it was to be remarked, that it only gave relief to one class of persons, who objected to the present marriage ceremony—the Protestant dissenters, and not to the Catholics, who also objected to it.

Mr. W. Smith

repeated the statement which he had made when he first proposed the measure, to show that an object, which was allowed to be desirable, was obtained in an unobjectionable manner; the relief granted to one class of dissenters being afforded without prejudice to any other class, or even to the most rigid friend of the church of England. A part of the ceremony was to be left out when certain persons requested it. In the part that remained of the ceremony, not one word was altered. The Romish dissenters, it was said, objected to the ceremony in toto, but they were not placed in a worse situation by the bill; on the contrary, a door was opened for that relief which they were entitled to. As, however, it would be vain for him to hope to pass it at present, after the declaration of the noble lord, he should withdraw it, with the intention of submitting it in the next session.

Dr. Phillimore

, without objecting to the end to be attained, suggested that the bill was open to two objections—1st. That by stripping the ceremony of all its religious part, it might be regarded with less reverence by the members of the church; and 2d, that the clergy might feel conscientious scruples in performing a ceremony which they were accustomed to consider as a religious one, thus degraded into a mere civil ordinance.

Sir J. Mackintosh

, after recapitulating the objections of Dr. Phillimore, observed, that the first of those objections appeared to him rather singular, since nothing could more tend to lessen and degrade a ceremony than the knowledge that persons conformed to what they did not believe, and uttered, under the form of devotion, words in which their hearts did not join, and to which in their consciences they felt invincible repugnance. The idea which gave weight to the ceremony, was the belief that it was a voluntary and conscientious declaration of the feelings, and a compulsory insincerity could only weaken the aid that religion and the law gave to this solemn engagement. He was rather alarmed at the principle contained in the second objection. The marriage ceremony, and the other rites of the church of England were established by the act of authority, and the power which ordained could require (though it would not do it without deliberation) that those ceremonies should not be performed in certain cases. Religion was the relation of man to his Creator, but an established church was the creature of civil policy.

The bill was ordered to be committed that day three weeks.