HC Deb 19 June 1827 vol 17 cc1343-5
Mr. W. Smith

moved the third reading of this bill.

Sir T. Acland

regretted that his hon. friend had, in the present bill, departed from the principle of his former bill. His hon. friend had introduced a clause, the effect of which was to make marriage altogether a civil contract. To this he could not consent; and he wished him to postpone the third reading for a day or two, to give time for devising some remedy. By the present bill, Dissenters about to contract matrimony, after publication of bans and other preliminary forms, might go before a magistrate and there complete the contract, the magistrate's certificate being forwarded to the parish church. He should propose that, after the parties had made a declaration of their intention before the magistrate, the latter should authorise them to be married in a Dissenting place of worship. It was with no motive of hostility to the bill, that he moved that the third reading be postponed till Thursday.

Mr. W. Smith

contended, that this bill merely restored the marriage law to what it was before the passing of lord Hardwicke's act in 1752, when the ceremony of marriage between Dissenters was a civil contract. He should be happy to accede to the proposal of the hon. baronet, if he thought that by postponing the consideration of the subject to Thursday he could ensure its success.

Sir C. Wetherell

opposed the bill as a measure which made marriage a mere civil contract, and placed the people of this country, and of these times, under the revolutionary law of Cromwell and of Petion. He thought, too, that any attempt to make marriage a ceremony which might be arranged in a police-office, would increase the number of clandestine marriages.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, he was still of opinion the bill ought to include all Dissenters; not but that he thought the best thing they could do, would be to repeal the Marriage Act altogether. He thought the law of Scotland much better than that of England, as it now stood, and believed that there were as few imprudent marriages under their system, as there were under ours.

Dr. Phillimore

supported the bill. Why, he said, not give to all classes of Dissenters, the same privileges which were enjoyed by the Jews and Quakers? In those Catholic countries in which the decisions of the council of Trent were not admitted, marriages by civil contract were considered valid, without the intervention of a priest. Adverting to the four different modes in which his hon. friend had introduced this subject, he observed that the present was preferable to any of the others. He could not see how, consistently with their former decisions on the subject, the House could refuse to agree to the present bill.

Mr. Estcourt

maintained, that the alterations which had been introduced into the bill, while they secured liberty of conscience, also protected the rights of the establishment. He was apprehensive, however, that it was too late in the session to press it forward.

Mr. R. Grant

eulogised the patience which had been exhibited by his hon. friend, the member for Norwich, on this important question. He was at a loss to conceive why all the Dissenters should not be entitled to the same privileges, with reference to the marriage ceremony, as the Jews and Quakers, and the Dissenters and some classes of Catholics in Ireland. With respect to the latter, he could not learn that any inconvenience had resulted from this partial practice of exemption from the Marriage Act, and allowing the parties to celebrate the ceremony according to their own rites. He could not help lamenting that, on all occasions, when a measure of this kind was brought forward, although a wish to do every thing to consult conscientious scruples was professed, yet the spirit of objection always started up, and contrived to defeat the object in view. He thought all the members who were friends to toleration must be friendly to the bill; and it was as a friend to toleration that he would give the measure his support.

Mr. W. Smith

said, he felt no disposition whatever to consent to the postponement of the measure.

Mr. Canning

said, that the different objections which had been made to the bill, by the different objectors, were of such a nature, that they proved to him, that the objectors were all agreed as to the principle of the measure. The arguments of the learned gentleman (sir C. Wetherell) were the most unfair he had ever heard used, and were pushed more ad invidiam, than he had ever known arguments pushed. They had been pushed so far, that he began to feel alarmed, when he recollected that he had been married, not indeed in a tavern, but in a room, and most of the gentlemen who heard him had probably been married in this way; and the same way was precisely the circumstance which, according to the learned gentleman's arguments, vitiated marriage. The learned gentlemen said they were married by license. But a marriage by license was a purchased marriage; and he was astonished to hear the learned gentleman, who was the great enemy of the abuses of Rome, arguing that the rich, who were able to purchase the right to marry, were at liberty to do so, while those who, not being rich, contracted marriage in any other place than a church, were unworthy of the protection of the legislature. Such arguments were only calculated to confirm hon. members in the support they were already disposed to give the bill. If he were now to vote against the bill, and that were fatal to the measure, this much litigated subject would be again hung up till another session, and the parties would again have to run the gauntlet of all such objections as had been then stated, and which might again end in being fatal to the measure. If the bill passed, and went to the other House, he was satisfied that the principle of it would meet the sanction of authorities, both legal and ecclesiastical, of the highest consideration. He knew that in sending it to that House, it would not be met by an indiscriminate opposition; but if there were on one side great learning, and talents, and piety opposed to it, there were on the other side great talents, piety, and integrity to bring forward its merits. He was decidedly in favour of the measure.

The bill was read a third time and passed.