HC Deb 13 June 1836 vol 34 cc490-4

The House afterwards went into Committee on the Marriages Bill.

Upon Clause 15th being proposed,

Dr. Bowring

moved an amendment, that instead of twenty householders attending a dissenting chapel being required to sign a certificate, to have it licensed for the purpose of marriages being celebrated in it, the certificate of ten householders should be sufficient

Dr. Lushington

opposed the amendment.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 22; Noes 128—Majority 106.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Harland, W. C.
Bowes, J. Howard, P. H.
Grote, G. Hindley, C
Hutt, W. Hector, J. C.
Lynch, A. H. Smith, Ben.
Moreton, hon. A. H. Scourfield, W. H.
O'Connell, M. J. Thornely, T.
Pease, J. Thompson, Col.
Parrott, J. Wakely, T.
Potter, R. Williams, W.
Roche, D. TELLER.
Rundle, J. Bowring, Dr.

Clause l8th, enacting that marriages may be celebrated before the Superintendent Registrar, was proposed.

Mr. Poulter

objected to this Clause. It was a Clause that separated the contract of marriage from what it always had previously in this country, the sanction of a religious ceremony. The members of the Church of England, he was sure, would not accept of such a Clause, and he believed that the Dissenters were not prepared to accept it, as they had last year refused to accept the Bill of the right hon. Baronet, which permitted these marriages to take place as civil contracts. Many of the Dissenters, he knew, were desirous of retaining the religious sanction for their marriages, and their feelings were alone exerted against it by the undue and obnoxious restrictions imposed by the old Marriage Act. In this case, as in others, the extreme restrictions had driven to violent principles and extreme theories, which otherwise they would never entertain. He hoped the noble Lord would permit this Clause to be expunged from the Act.

Mr. Baines

considered, that there would be great weight in the objection made by the hon. Member, if it were imperative upon the Dissenters that their marriages should take place as a civil contract. Under this Act, it was optional with them to have the marriage celebrated as a civil con-tract, or under a religious sanction. It being optional, all objection was removed. The Bill of the right hon. Baronet was objected to, because there was too much of the civil contract enforced with respect to the marriages of the Dissenters.

Sir Robert Inglis

decidedly objected to the Clause. With the single exception of the time of the great Rebellion, there was no one instance in the history of the country, of marriage having been considered otherwise than as a religious ceremony. This was a solitary attempt to give a civil character to a religious contract.

Dr. Lushington

The great principle of the Bill, and the principle which he advocated, was this, that marriage was a natural fight, to which all the subjects of this land had a full and complete title, and that the legislature had no pretence, justice, or authority for confining or limiting it, except so far as was essentially necessary to insure that publicity which would prevent furtive connexions and illicit marriages. If this clause were omitted, the whole remedy of the Bill would be left out. Up to the year 1756, marriage was a mere legal contract. Two people declaring themselves man and wife before witnesses were as indubitably married as persons making the same declaration in Scotland, with the exception of not being entitled to claim some obsolete remedies as to real property. Under this law the people of Scotland existed to the present day. Were they regardless of their duty to their Creator? It would be difficult to find on the whole surface of the globe a more religious people than the Scotch. He made his stand upon the great and broad principle which he had ever maintained in that House. He denied the right, though he could not deny the power, of the legislature to infringe upon the conscience of any individual whatever, with respect to those natural rights, of which marriage was of all others the foremost and most necessary.

Mr. Hardy

conceived that by the Bill marriage was converted into a mere civil contract. All that was required was, that some ceremony of marriage should take place in a registered building, which had been certified by twenty householders to be a place for religious worship.

Lord John Russell

said, that the great object of the Bill was to allow every person to be married according to whatever form his conscience dictated. Here were first members of the Church of England, next the Dissenters, who considered marriage a religious ceremony, and preferred being married in their own chapels; the first were left in their present situation; the second were permitted to carry their wishes into effect. There were other classes of Dissenters who considered marriage not a religious but a civil ceremony. Taking the broad principle of religious liberty, he felt that they were bound to provide for all these classes; he did not think that the House had a right to tell one class of men that their scruples were just and reasonable, and to refuse to judge of those of others. If the Bill were carried with that clause, he would admit that he entertained no doubt but that ninety-nine marriages out of one hundred would still be considered as religious ceremonies. Although the number of marriages celebrated upon any other principle might be few, however, still the principle was a great one, and they were bound to maintain it.

Sir R. Peel

said, it appeared to him that all the Bill did was to enable the marriage ceremony to be performed in a registered building; but that it did not require any religious ceremony. He required a civil contract, as an essential condition of marriage, trusting that there would always be some religious ceremony, being unable to define what it should be; but wishing that it should be in accordance with the conscientious belief of those who engaged in it. He wished to have one point distinctly understood. Supposing both parties were members of the Church of England, was it intended in their case to dispense with the rite of marriage according to the Established Church? He hoped, and fully believed, that it was not intended. He did not consider that he had any right to interfere with the solemnization of marriage by the Dissenters; but he was very anxious that the effect of the Bill, with reference to members of the Church of England, should be fully understood.

Mr. Law

objected to the Bill as a proposed gratuitous desecration of the marriage rite. He did not think that it would be at all uncharitable to impose the restraint of a religious ceremony upon Dissenters.

Sir R. Peel

thought he imposed no invidious task upon the Dissenters when he required that such of them as objected to marriage being considered a religious ceremony, should state their objection upon the register. This was really one of the most important parts of the Bill, and he trusted the House would arrive at no hasty decision upon it.

Mr. Pryme

saw no hardship whatever in requiring some religious ceremony in addition to a mere legal contract, or at most some declaration of a conscientious objection on behalf of the party.

Mr. Miles

contended, as the clause stood, that it would tend to encourage clandestine marriages.

The Attorney-General

thought, that it was absolutely necessary that there should be some ceremony which would make it known to the world that a marriage compact had been entered into between parties. He did not think that the adoption of the alterations that had been suggested from the other side of the House would be at all advisable.

Mr. Arthur

Trevor contended that making marriage a civil contract would be highly injurious; and passing the clause as it stood would greatly increase the number of clandestine marriages.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

hoped that the House would not adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury, which, if adopted, would destroy the principle as well as the utility of the Bill.

The Committee divided on the amendment: Ayes 58; Noes 123 — Majority 65

Clauses to the 28th were agreed to. The House resumed,