The Marquis of Lansdown,
in moving that the House should go into a committee on this bill, said he wished to avail himself of that 1408 opportunity to make some observations on the bill. But before he entered upon those observations, he must remark upon the irregular discussion which had just gone by; not for the purpose of adding anything to what had been said upon that subject, but in illustration of the inconvenience of entering upon the discussion of subjects, of which notice had not been previously given. He adverted to this inconvenience, as it had deprived him of the advantage of the support of the right reverend prelate at the head of the church, who had attended that evening for the express purpose of supporting this bill, but who was prevented from remaining in the House, by the state of his health. Their lordships, who remembered the sentiments of that right rev. prelate on a former occasion, would bear testimony to the spirit of toleration, which he hoped would always characterize the clergy of the Established Church, and by which he was particularly anxious to see the heads of that church distinguished. He was instructed by that right rev. prelate, to say, that his sentiments remained unaltered upon this subject. Bills containing provision for the relief of the Dissenters, had been two or three times sent up to that House from the House of Commons, and rejected by their lordships; but he was happy to say that a very general feeling prevailed amongst those who had formerly opposed those bills, to give some relief to the Dissenters; and he believed he might even say, that the right rev. prelates had expressed an anxiety to adopt some measure, by which the Dissenters might be freed from the necessity of giving utterance, as a mere matter of form, to sentiments which they entertained not at heart; and, at the same time, to avoid that scandal to the church, which resulted from having its creed and its ceremonies prostituted by the calling upon Dissenters, for temporary purposes, to give a feigned assent to doctrines which they declared they did not believe. That was the situation of the Church, and the evil from which the right rev. prelate and other members of the ecclesiastical body wished to be relieved; and, he confessed, it was beyond his power to conceive, how those persons who attached importance to the due observance of the forms and doctrines of time church, could wish to continue a state of things, under which those ceremonies were used for the purposes of extorting a consent, intended to evade, and not to fulfil, the purposes of the 1409 legislature. Under the strong impression of the scandal which the law, as it stood at present, brought upon the church, he could not but express a hope, that their lordships would do something to meet the difficulties which presented themselves. Different modes of meeting these difficulties had been suggested at different times. A noble earl, lately at the head of his majesty's government (lord Liverpool), and who felt deeply the inconvenience which resulted from the state of the laws affecting the Dissenters, had expressed an opinion, that the difficulty might be best met by allowing some alteration to be made in the service of the church of England; but the right rev. prelates thought otherwise, and no attempt was made to carry that suggestion into execution. Different plans had been submitted to their lordships and rejected. The bill now under consideration attempted to reconcile, as far as possible, the jarring opinions which prevailed, and proposed to meet the objections which had been made at various times to the measures which came under their lordships' attention. Its objects were two-fold— that of making the ceremony of marriage a civil security, combined with the strongest attention to those religious ceremonies by which it was sanctioned. In this country, up to the 26th of Geo. the 2nd, these objects had been very imperfectly provided for; but an innovation upon the existing law, commonly called Lord Hardwicke's Act, then received the sanction of the legislature. At the time when lord Hardwicke introduced that measure, it became necessary to exempt two classes of religious believers from its operation—the Jews and the Quakers; but he apprehended that no man could contend, that this exemption was intended to fix any slur upon the marriage of those persons, or to declare that they were not perfectly legal. Some insinuations had, he knew, been thrown out, from an authority of great importance, that the marriage of those opulent and industrious people, the Quakers— a people remarkable for the purity of their lives, and the extent of their good works— could not be legally recognised; but he apprehended, that there could be no doubt upon the subject; and some of the most learned lawyers this country could boast, had distinctly declared their opinion, that the marriage of Quakers was perfectly legal. Sir Matthew Hale had distinctly given his 1410 sanction to the legality of the marriage of Quakers. Burnet, in alluding to the circumstance gives this account of the conduct and expressions of that eminent person on the occasion:— "In a trial that was before him, when a Quaker was sued for some debts owing by his wife before he married her, and the Quaker's counsel pretended that it was no marriage that had passed between them, since it was not solemnised according to the rules of the Church of England; sir Matthew Hale declared that he was not willing, on his own opinion, to make their children bastards, and gave directions to the jury to find it special, which they did."After some observations upon the nature of the case, and the conduct of the parties, the learned Historian goes on to observe, that "if this judge had not been more their friend than one of those they so called, their posterity had been little beholden to them. But he governed himself indeed by the law of the Gospel, of doing to others what he would have others do to him; and therefore, because he would have thought it a hardship, not without a cruelty, if, amongst Papists, all marriages were nulled which had not been made with all the ceremonies in the Roman ritual; so he, applying this to the case of the Sectaries, thought all marriages made according to the several persuasions of them, ought to have their effects in law." The noble marquis, after some observations upon the legality of the marriage of the Quakers being thus clearly proved, proceeded to contend that he was entitled to claim the same right for the Unitarians, and expressed a hope, that the time was now come when persons of that persuasion should no longer be invited to approach the altar with falsehoods in their mouths, or be compelled to subscribe to principles which they could not respect, and at the same time bring into contempt that faith which others hold sacred, for the gratification of mere secular and civil purposes. Adverting to the clauses of the bill, the noble marquis declared that he did not hold himself responsible for their perfection; but he knew that those who framed them had the assistance of some of those, whose experience and information best qualified them for the task. In the first place, the banns were to be published for the security of the public, and then the parties were to go before a magistrate and procure a certificate, that they had complied with certain 1411 forms specified in the act; that certificate was then to be carried to the clegyman for the purpose of being registered. Some objections, he understood, were made to imposition of this duty upon the clergyman; but he, for one, thought it was one of those inconveniences which could not be avoided. The Registry act had been passed in the time of William the 3rd, as a tax, for the purpose of raising money to carry on the war which was then waged against Louis the 14th; but so beneficial had it since been found, and so important was it, in every point of view, for the interests of the public, that if the bill now before the House did not contain a clause to make that registry imperative, he could not possibly consent to give it his support. The registration of one of the most important acts of a man's life was, in every point of view, of such infinite importance, that he thought the bill must prove inefficient, unless the clergyman was called upon to register the certificate.
The Earl of Eldon
regretted the absence of the right reverend prelate on this occasion, because it was his misfortune to differ with him in the view which he took of this subject. He wished, in the first place, to separate from the consideration of the question every thing which had been said with regard to the Jews and the Quakers. In his opinion, the state of the Jews had no possible connection with the subject before their lordships. It might, perhaps, be different with regard to the Quakers; and he would here take leave to make an observation upon what had fallen from the noble marquis, when he spoke of a doubt having been thrown out respecting the validity of a Quaker's marriage. If that doubt related to any thing which had fallen from him, he must have been completely misunderstood; for he had distinctly given it as his opinion, that the marriage was perfectly valid. He was the more anxious to say this, because he was aware that doubts might have been raised, from the nature of the law on that subject. In 1661, they would find that the result of a proceeding at law admitted the validity of such marriages. In 1730, in another proceeding at common law, A doubt was cast upon the legality of a Quaker marriage, although its validity was afterwards confirmed upon a rehearing of the cause. The 7th and 8th of William and Mary contain, however, a clause which decides 1412 the question; and by which, for the purposes of taxation, all persons living together are held as married persons, whether they have been married or not according to the established forms. With respect to the marriages of Jews, a question arose in the court of Chancery as to their validity so lately as the time when , lord Rosslyn was chancellor. A man claimed a legacy as due to him, on the ground of its having been left to a person whom he called his wife. The persons were a Jew and a Jewess, and the question in this case was whether the legatee was his wife. The lord Chancellor directed this question to be tried by the Ecclesiastical court, and the case came on before the present lord Stowell. Lord Stowell, and also sir W. Wynn, who afterwards affirmed the judgment of lord Stowell, expressed their surprise that this case should have been sent to the court of Chancery; inasmuch as the lord Chancellor had just as much right as an Ecclesiastical court to decide incidentally on the validity of a Jewish marriage, as on that of a foreign marriage. They decided, however, that a marriage of Jews was to be considered as a marriage of foreigners out of the country. Now, the validity of a foreign marriage must be decided by the lex loci; but it was a maxim of law, that the Jews, who were every where, were in fact, no where. As the Jews, therefore, have no place in this country, as they have no locality, no lex loci can apply to their case; but the validity of their marriages must be determined by their conformity with their own peculiar laws. Whatever the legislature had done with regard to the marriages of Jews and Quakers, and whatever it might be disposed to do with regard to the marriages of Dissenters, he trusted it would never assent to any measure, the effect of which would be to degrade the Church of England in the public estimation. With respect to the marriages of Quakers, he was certainly of opinion, that their marriages might be considered legal, under the exception in the 26th George 2nd. But let their lordships consider at what period of the session it was, that they were called upon to decide this most important question. He had given the greatest attention to this bill; he had weighed every sentence and line in it; but he found it utterly impossible to assent to the passing of it without a great number of alterations, 1413 Now if, labouring as he had done, with a view to make this bill better than it was, he had been unable to accomplish his object, he did think that no time or labour their lordships could bestow upon it would enable them to execute their work as it ought to be executed. Besides, if their lordships introduced amendments, the amendments of this most important bill would go down to the Commons on Friday, and on that very evening the other House must decide upon the propriety of them; for their lordships were perfectly aware that no other opportunity would be afforded for considering them. The time, therefore, at which this measure was brought under the consideration of their lordships, was a sufficient ground for not passing it, even if the objections to it were less strong than he believed he should be able to satisfy the House they were.— It had been argued, that it was but just to do for Dissenters of this description what the legislature had done for Jews and Quakers. Bat admitting that the marriages of Jews and Quakers were valid, under the exception in the Marriage act, he begged to ask their lordships, whether the Church of England had ever been called in to assist in those marriages? In the time of the Commonwealth, when men were married, as it was now proposed, before justices of the peace—a measure adopted for the express purpose of degrading the clergy—the clergy were called upon to aid and assist in their own degradation. If their lordships should think it right to do that for Dissenters generally which had been done for Quakers, let them do so; but then they must do more than was proposed to be done by this bill. He begged to call their lordships' attention to what this bill did, and to what it did not. In the first place, he should be glad to know who the persons were whom this bill proposed to relieve? What an Unitarian was had never yet been explained. He had taken occasion last year to ask a right reverend prelate, who was now unfortunately absent, what was an Unitarian, and he could get no answer. Since that time, he had received a sermon, preached by a minister before an Unitarian congregation, and the first words were— "The lord Chancellor asks what is an Unitarian?" This was, certainly, rather a singular commencement of a sermon; it was, however, a very good sermon, as far as he could understand subjects of that 1414 kind. The sole reason which led him to ask the question—and if their lordships should go into the committee, he should ask it again—was, that it might be recorded upon the face of this bill what a Unitarian was. Was a Unitarian a person who denied the divinity of our Saviour? He should be exceedingly glad to get a definition of a Unitarian. He did not know what distinction there was between Unitarians and the Free-thinking Christians, who entertained these scruples about marriages. He begged their lordships to look at the language of these petitioners, that they might judge of their claims to the special interposition of the legislature.—The noble earl proceeded to read some passages from the petitions of the Free-thinking Christians, in which the petitioners stated, that the religion of the Established Church had no higher date than that of Popery, and that its laws had no higher authority than that of acts of parliament. What was the complaint of these Free-thinking Christians? Their children were baptized according to the forms of the Established Church; they were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and he did not hear that these dissenters made any objection to the baptismal ceremony. With respect to the marriage ceremony, what was objected to was, he understood, the mention of the Godhead under the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, when the clergyman at the end of the ceremony prayed the blessing of God upon the man and his wife. The calling upon God to bless them under the terms of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost—and every Christian of common honesty and integrity, when he said God bless you, meant the Godhead in its Christian acceptation—was what these persons deemed so great a hardship. It was on such grounds that their lordships were called upon to make a law, not for the benefit of Dissenters of all denominations, but for this particular class of Dissenters, which according to all the evidence of history, held doctrines of a more offensive description than any other class. In his opinion, the best security for a religious establishment was a religion of the purest form, with a large and liberal toleration. Such was the spirit of the toleration granted in the act of the 53rd of the late king; and he was perfectly ready to admit, that the acts of the 7th and 8th 1415 of William and Mary enacted penaltie on account of religious opinions, which ought never to have been thought of. By the provisions of the bill now before their lordships, the clergy of the Church of England were called upon to publish the bans, on the declaration of the parties that they were Dissenters of this description. The clergyman was to certify, that he had published the bans to a justice of the peace, and the justice of peace was to appoint some time and place where the marriage ceremony, such as it was, was to be performed. A question had been raised, whether it might not be necessary to substitute the words "reputed justice" for justice; and in point of fact, when the noble lord who held the Great Seal had had as much experience as he (lord E.) had had—and he trusted that he would hold it as long, and longer than he had done—he would find that cases might frequently arise where, in consequence of certain informalities, it was questionable who was or was not a justice of the peace. The bans having been published, the justice of the peace was to give a certificate, that the parties had gone through certain forms before him; and upon this certificate the clergyman was to be called upon to register the marriage. Now, he would put it to their lordships, whether a clergyman of the Church of England was not degraded and dishonoured, by being compelled to act as a sort of clerk to a justice of the peace; and whether the lay magistrate of the Church of England was not also dishonoured, by being concerned in such a transaction. Suppose the clergyman— as must frequently be the case—to be himself a justice of the peace; was he to go through the species of marriage ceremony, as a justice of the peace, which he could not possibly perform without a gross violation of his duties as a conscientious clergyman? Was it contended, that the scruples of those Dissenters who denied the divinity of our Saviour were to be respected, because they could not in their consciences allow a clergyman of the Church of England to say to them, at the end of the marriage ceremony, "God bless you, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," and that they might then turn round upon the clergyman, and say, " You have published our bans; but you are also a justice of peace; and we choose you, in despite of any thing you may urge on the score of your conscience, 1416 to perform our marriage ceremony in that capacity?" He was perfectly satisfied that their lordships would not suffer the clergy of the Church of England to be so degraded and dishonoured. Did the act contain any clause which required the observance of what was necessary to be observed, with respect to licenses, and with respect to the Canon law? Was there any clause with reference to felony, without benefit of clergy; he meant the clause which related to forging registers, making false entries, and similar offences? It would be necessary to guard against clandestine marriages; and yet all which this bill did for that purpose was to call upon the parish clergyman to publish the bans. Quakers and Jews were generally married in full assemblies of their connexion and friends; but, by the proposed bill, the greatest door was opened to frauds. A person had nothing to do but to pretend to be a Unitarian, to have his bans published, and then proceed to the private room of any justice of the peace, who would give him his certificate. He might put this certificate in his pocket, if he chose to run the risk of a penalty of 20l., which a justice might reduce to 5l. Nobody could then prove the marriage under the act; because the party was not, in fact, a Unitarian, but had only pretended to be one.—He not only objected to the bill because it was intended to put the Unitarians on the same footing as Quakers, but he would go further and say, that if the House did intend to adopt the principles of the bill, its enactments were not calculated to carry those principles into effect. If the House thought that the bill ought to pass, he still objected to its passing in the present session. It would want so many amendments, so many serious alterations, to make it a bill such as it ought to be, that it would be impossible to get through with it in the present session, and he should feel himself bound to move, that it be read this day three months. He thought it was a material objection to the bill, that it imposed upon men the necessity of giving direct evidence to a fact which they did not know to be true. At present the register of a marriage was taken as evidence in a court of justice, because the marriage act required the clergyman who celebrated the marriage to sign the registry. This was making the clergyman certify what he knew to be true. The same principle applied to 1417 baptism. But, by the present bill, a person might put the marriage certificate in his pocket, and, defying proof, might tell the female that he was not married, and that her children were not legitimate.—It was not necessary for him to give any opinion upon the principles of the bill; the only thing to consider was, the necessity of having time to consider how to make the bill upon its own principles, effective. He trusted that their lordships would feel in favour of the old law of the land, and let the present bill stand over till next session. If it were said, that the parties aggrieved by the present law ought not to be allowed to continue so long under the injury they suffered, he would ask, whose fault was that? Year after year, this bill had been proposed to the House— the same objections had been urged against it, and yet its authors continued to press the measure. Those who did press it in its old form were alone to blame if the relief they sought was deferred. As the questions of repeal of the Test and Corporation acts, the Corn-bill, and other measures, were to be postponed till next session, he saw no reason why this bill, also, might not be warehoused and bonded like the rest till next session. When that time would arrive, he would contribute his exertions to make the measure as perfect as possible; but should move at present "that the bill be committed that day three months."
said, he was inclined to think that the great practical grievance was what the church itself laboured under, as long as the law continued in its existing state. With reference to the arguments used by the learned lord about the bill being a measure of partiality to the Unitarians, as a sect distinguished from all other Dissenters, he had overlooked, that no distinction existed between the Unitarians and all other religionists, except, perhaps, the Jews. Upon this ground alone, the Unitarians might not have any claim upon the consideration of parliament; but the public had strong claims that the legislature should relieve the established church of the blasphemy committed by its ministers in being called upon to pronounce, in the most solemn manner, the doctrine of the Trinity, to persons who did not believe in it, and to exact from such persons an assurance of faith which they did not possess. He did not imagine that human ingenuity could 1418 conceive a more certain means, in the present state of society, of making the church degrade and pollute itself by mixing profaneness with its most sacred service. He thought the House owed it to the honour and dignity of the church, not to allow the present law to continue another year. The Unitarians were stated by the learned lord, to be asking of parliament what was not granted to Jews or Quakers; but the fact was, that neither of the two latter sects were obliged to submit to the marriage ceremony of the Church of England. The church was, therefore, bound to carry on the imposition with respect to Unitarians; whilst it was relieved from the degrading duty with respect to Jews and Quakers. Was it a proof of the high reverence of the church for the sacred doctrines of the Trinity, which was the vital principle of her faith, that she should call upon her ministers to declare her doctrines, and to oblige individuals to repeat them, who were known not to entertain such tenets? It would be most disadvantageous to the church itself to suffer another session to pass, without putting an end to the existing state of things with respect to Unitarian marriages. No one had a deeper sense than he had of the religious errors of the Unitarians; but, in the practice of the moral precepts of Christianity, he believed, they might bear a comparison with the most orthodox Christians; and, for the sake of the church establishment itself, as well as for their sakes, the grievance of which they complained ought to be redressed.
said, he was ready to grant as much relief to the Unitarians as was consistent with the interests of the established religion; but their lordships should proceed in this measure with caution, as it was, he believed, the first attempt made to divest marriage of the solemnities of religion. The relief which he was inclined to give to the Unitarians would be to allow them to be married by clergymen of their own persuasion. To the present bill, however, he had that objection, which must be made to all bills on important subjects introduced in the last week of the session, that it could not at that period be hurried into a law, without containing many defects.
The Lord Chancellor
observed, that it was with considerable diffidence he addressed the House, after the very able 1419 speech of his noble and learned friend. But he was apprehensive that it might be thought that he did not do his duty, if he remained wholly silent. But, if he understood his noble and learned friend correctly, his objections applied, not to the principle, but to the clauses, of the bill; and they were now considering the principle. He hoped, therefore, that their lordships would allow the bill to go into the committee, and then, if in considering the bill clause by clause, the objections should appear to be insuperable, he would subscribe to the course proposed by his noble and learned friend, and agree to the postponement of the measure till next session. But their lordships ought not, in his opinion, to abandon the bill in its present stage. If he thought that the measure would degrade the clergy, or injure the church establishment, he would be zealous against it; but when a right rev. prelate, who had been alluded to, had said that he was not averse to the principle of the bill, he could not think that it was in the slightest degree calculated either to degrade the clergy or injure the church. With their lordships' permission, he would advert briefly to the history of the law of marriage. Throughout the whole of Christendom there was no religious ceremony connected with marriage, till the time of the Council of Trent; and still, in the countries which did not acknowledge the authority of that Council, no religious ceremony was essential to marriage, and none was essential in this country, till the passing of the Marriage Act. He stated this not merely on his own authority, but on the authority of a most eminent judge; he meant lord Holt, who had held, in two cases, that a marriage might be constituted without any religious ceremony. He might refer to another noble and learned lord (Stowell) who was a light and an ornament to that House, and whose profound erudition was graced by his elegant and classical taste. That noble and learned lord had proceeded on the ground which he had stated in his judgment in the case of Dalrymple and Dalrymple; in which he had set out the authorities, and mentioned the case of lord Fitzmaurice in 1730, where a marriage per verba de presenti was held to be valid, without any religious sanction; so that the parties could not by their own consent render it of no effect. Such was the law here before the Marriage Act, which, as judge Blackstone had said, 1420 had so far altered the law of England. If the noble and learned lord (Stowell) to whom he alluded, had thought that this bill had any tendency to degrade the clergy or injure the church, he would have been here to oppose it, and his absence was an argument that he was not adverse to the measure. The Quakers had been excepted from the operation of the Marriage Act; and their marriages stood on the same footing as marriages did before the passing of that act; and if the Unitarians had then existed in the same way as they now existed, would they not also have been excepted? The principle of the exemption was, that this was a matter of conscience, and that to force the Quakers to go through the ceremony as appointed by the act, would be a profanation of the rites of the Church of England: and, upon the same principle, the Unitarians should be exempted. A right rev. prelate had said, that it was a solemn mockery, or something to that effect, to make the Unitarians perform the marriage ceremony according to the rites of the church of England; and would they not then have been exempted from the Marriage Act, if they had existed in a legal form as they did now? They had not, at the time of passing the Marriage Act, a legal existence; since, by a statute of king William, they were subjected to penalties; and, in nine years after, additional penalties were enacted against them; and thus matters stood with respect to them at the passing of the Marriage Act, and they were not exempted, as they were marked out by law as objects of punishment. But in the 19th of the late king, the laws against them had been repealed to a certain extent, and in 1813, they were entirely exempted from the penalties. They ought now, therefore, to have the benefit of exemption from the Marriage Act; since that would be quite in the spirit of that act. As to the principles of this sect, it was said that they were christians, believing in the New Testament, but not drawing the same conclusions as we do from a part of the New Testament. They did not object to the ceremony of baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; nor did they object to these words in the marriage ceremony; but they did object to the blessing— in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. That with them was no trifling objection, but one which went to the very essence of 1421 their faith. It was the point on which their faith turned. It had been said, that they were not called upon to repeat these words; but then they were present when they were pronounced, and were supposed to assent to them, and they could not protest against them, without being guilty of an infraction of the law. This solemn mockery ought to be got rid of, for the sake both of Dissenters and of the church. Now, he thought the bill could properly be defended upon the principle of a law now in existence, he meant the Marriage Act. Since the year 1813, when, by act of parliament, the Dissenters became a tolerated body, and were exempted from penalties to which they had before been liable, they might be considered as forming a new class in the country. He was of opinion that their lordships were bound to follow up the principle of that bill, which they might now do in a very necessary and important point, by going into a committee on the bill under consideration. It was supposed that the publication of bans, required by this act, would be offensive to the clergy of the established church. He really did not conceive in what manner they could be offended by it, especially when it was recollected that, by the present practice of the church. notices of all sorts, even of the most trifling descriptions, were regularly promulgated during the intervals of divine service. What was it that could offend the clergy in the publication of the bans of marriage between persons so respectable as were the members of this class of Dissenters? Was it possible for their lordships to say that a class, some of the members of which were legislators, were so little respectable, that the publication of their bans of marriage would degrade the clergyman who made the publication? Again, his noble and learned friend had complained of the clause in this act which required the entry in the registry of the marriage. Now, it seemed to him that the duty thus imposed upon the clergyman was one in which the whole country was interested. It was not a matter that regarded individuals alone, it was, in fact, a public duty. Was it not, he would ask, a matter of public convenience, that all the registers of marriage should be kept in one place, in order that all questions of legitimacy might be easily determined? Were not all parties interested in the decisions of such matters, even in a pecuniary 1422 point of view? Was it no advantage to the country to secure the means of a quick and necessary method of settling those disputes? He felt the force of the objection made by the noble and learned lord to that part of the bill which related to the marriage before the justice of the peace. He knew that that objection, and others of a similar kind, originated in no party feeling, but were the result of an accurate consideration of the bill. Still, he thought, that they ought not to hesitate to give their sanction to its principle, leaving its details for discussion in the committee. When it had arrived at that stage, he should certainly use his utmost endeavours to get rid of the difficulties which had now been presented to their lordships; and, if those difficulties were found to be such as could not be disposed of in the present session, he would agree to give up the bill for a time, satisfied with having established the principle of the measure. If the principle of the bill was once established, he thought there would be no difficulty in mastering its details. If he was right in what he had stated, he saw no reason why the bill should not be committed. It seemed to him, that the respectable body of Dissenters to which he had alluded were entitled to this promise of relief; and indeed that not only they, but the members of the establishment, might claim it at the hands of the legislature; for it would be a relief almost as much to the church as to the Dissenters.
The Earl of Eldon ,
in explanation, said, that his noble relative, lord Stowell, was disabled by illness from attending the discussion. Inadvertence alone had prevented his noble relative from attending by proxy against the measure; so strong was his aversion to the bill.
The Bishop of Chester
said, he felt himself bound to offer a few words in support of the bill, in conformity with the pledge he had given. He agreed with the learned earl opposite, that some alterations were necessary; but he thought with the learned lord on the woolsack, that those alterations could be easily made in the committee. He would not go at length into the details of the bill; but he thought their lordships would do wisely to acknowledge its principle, by which they would give satisfaction to a numerous body of Dissenters, by shewing them that the legislature was ready to afford them all the assistance compatible with the integrity of the church, 1423 and with the safety of the constitution. The marriage ceremony was the only portion of the service of the Church of England to which it was compulsory on every person to conform. In some cases, it was not only the wish of persons to marry, but, in a political sense, marriage might be called a duty. Now, by the law as it at present stood, no Dissenters from the church, except the Quakers, could enter into the marriage state, without appearing to agree to doctrines from which they strongly dissented. The main part—almost the essence of marriage—consisted in the consent of the parties; but the state properly claimed some power in the regulation of that important ceremony. There were two points on which the state grounded its right of interference; first, as it regarded public good in the preservation of the means of ascertaining the legitimacy of children, in order to determine the titles to property; and secondly, to assist in preserving public morals, by giving a greater degree of solemnity to the act. With the first of these the church had nothing to do; and with respect to the second, he could not avoid expressing his serious doubts whether the solemnity of the ceremony was increased when two persons were compelled to do that which seemed to amount to an acquiescence in doctrines from which they really dissented. He agreed, that marriage was a contract which ought to be considered as sacred; but he feared that it did not gain much in sacredness of character, by the laws now regulating the practice of the Church of England. Although he was convinced that matrimony was, in the language of the church, a holy state not to be entered into without the observance of religious forms and ceremonies, yet he could not forget, that, in the 25th article of the church, it was stated, that there were "not any visible signs or ceremonies ordained of God." He thought, therefore, they were not bound to compel the Dissenters, in contracting marriages with each other, to perform religious ceremonies to which they so strongly objected. With respect to the publication of bans, he thought that part of the objections raised to the bill had been sufficiently answered by the learned lord on the woolsack; but, .if he might add any thing to that answer, he would say, that the clergyman was only required to perform a public duty in notifying the existence of a magistrate's 1424 certificate, which was required by the law of the state for the purposes of the state.
Their lordships divided: For going into a committee 61; Against it 54; Majority. 7.—The bill went through the committee.