§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.35.) MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
The Bill which I have the honour to propose to the House this afternoon is a measure to alter and amend the law as to marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and in submitting the measure to the House it will not be necessary to weary it with any long or detailed explanation. The Bill is no stranger to the House; it is rather, if I may be allowed to say so, an old familiar friend, knocking pertinaciously at our doors year after year, and it is received in all parts of the House, except by a small minority, not as a stranger, but as a welcome and honoured guest. The arguments on the subject have been threshed out. The hon. Gentleman who is about to move the rejection of the Bill may have discovered some new ones. If so, I should be delighted to hear them, and I daresay some of my hon. Friends will be able to meet them in the same way in which the arguments against the Bill in the past have been met and answered. This measure has been before the House and 1754 the country for something like 50 years. It was introduced in the House of Lords in 1841 by the late Lord Wharncliffe, and since that time the principle has been affirmed in the House of Commons in nearly 80 Divisions, and by large and substantial majorities, obtained not merely when Liberal Governments were in power, but also when Conservative Governments were in Office. During the past 15 years the average majority of the House which has sanctioned the principle has attained the high figure of 60; and during a period of 23 years the Bill has only suffered one reverse in the House of Commons, and this on an exceptional occasion. Not only so, but the Bill has passed in its entirety through all the stages which were necessary in this House, and has been sent up to the House of Lords on seven occasions. The Bill which I now submit to the House is, in its essential features, precisely similar to the measures which have been introduced on so many previous occasions. There is, however, one alteration to which I wish to draw the attention of hon. Members. In Clause 2 it is provided that—No clergyman of the Church of England or minister of the Church of Scotland shall be liable to any prosecution or suit for either performing or refusing to perform such a marriage, and no incumbent shall be at liberty to refuse permission for persons so related, who would otherwise have a right to be married in his church, to be married there by any other clergyman if he himself declines to perform it.This modification, which is not held by the promoters of the Bill to be essential to it, and which may be rejected in Committee if the House so please, has been made at the request of the clergy themselves. The opposition of the clergy, of which the House has heard so much from the opponents of the Bill, is in the main confined to one section alone, and is not adopted by the whole of the clergy of the Established Church. A large number of clergymen would indeed welcome the passing of this measure; and a very strong feeling is prevalent that when the Bill becomes law there should be no unnecessary distinctions between a marriage of this kind and any other lawful marriage. Therefore, it is in order to carry out the desire of the clergy of the Established Church that the promoters have inserted this proviso in the Bill. In the constituency which 1755 I represent, as in many other agricultural constituencies, the passing of this Bill would be of great importance to the artisans and labourers of the villages. I hold that such a measure would be of the greatest benefit to the poorer classes of the community. When it becomes law, those whose consciences object to such marriages would be in the same position as they are now. Take, for example, the question of celibacy among the clergy. Clergymen are not compelled to marry if their consciences lead them to consider celibacy to be a more fitting state for the priesthood than the married state. Marriage with a deceased wife's sister is practically accepted by every other country except this. Its adoption in our colonies and dependencies has been sanctioned by the Imperial Government, and it is reserved for this country alone at the end of the 19th century to maintain this obsolete and antiquated restriction. Any hon. Member who by his voice or by his vote opposes the principle of this measure will be seeking to impose on the majority of the people of this country a vexatious and obsolete custom which has been repudiated by the rest of the civilised world. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Herbert Gardner.)
§ *(12.50.) MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE (Finsbury, Holborn)
I beg to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months. My contention is that the Bill has no principle whatever to support it. It attempts to take away the rule of Marriage Law which has prevailed in this country for centuries, and it does not attempt to substitute any new fundamental canon. Surely with reference to a law which so deeply affects the welfare of the State, it is at least reasonable that the prohibitions in relation to marriage should rest on some intelligible principle. But this Bill does not attempt to amend the law; it only seeks to mutilate its proportions. It seeks to make a breach in the law, and I think I am not uncharitable in concluding from the public declarations of many hon. Members who support the Bill that when they have once made a breach they will seek 1756 to make it wider and wider, they know not how wide, until they shall have broken down the whole superstructure. The supporters of the Bill propose to deal with the dead wife's sister, but not with the dead husband's brother. I want to know on what principle they cast off the prohibition with regard to the woman when they do not cast it off with regard to the man? In short, such a change, once conceded, would set a stone rolling which it would be impossible to stop until it had carried away the whole of the prohibitions resting upon affinity. If those who hold the opposite view had the courage of their opinions they would lead the attack along the whole line; but, as to do so would arouse the feelings of the nation, they think it better strategy to lead a covert attack against an outpost. By this course the opponents of the Bill are placed at a great disadvantage, because they seem to be defending a detail, whereas they are fighting for a principle on which the whole Marriage Law rests. The Marriage Law of all civilised countries from the earliest times has been founded on the prohibitions contained' in the 18th chapter of Leviticus. Such was the law in this country in Saxon times, and also in mediaeval times till the Reformation; and at the time of the Reformation, by an express enactment, the prohibitions in the 18th chapter of Leviticus were introduced as part of the law. Granting that the Acts of Henry VIII., containing a declaration of the law, were forced upon the Parliament by the Sovereign for private ends of his own, it cannot be denied that successive Parliaments for 350 years have recognised that declaration, and there is a decision of the Court of Queen's Bench in 1847, in "The Queen v. Chadwick," declaring that marriage with a deceased wife's sister is against God's law as declared by statute. As to the theological argument, I submit that the prohibitions in Leviticus are not part of the Jewish Ceremonial Law, but are of general application, because they applied to the Canaanites and other heathen nations, who were not subject to the Jewish law; and, further, that marriage with a deceased wife's sister is included in those prohibitions. The prohibition is that a man shall not marry his near of kin, 1757 and instances are given to illustrate the meaning of near of kin. Many of the instances are cases of relations by marriage. There is a distinct declaration that a man's brother's wife is near of kin, and I want to know why the wife's sister is not as near of kin as the brother's wife? I have spoken of the opinion of the Early Church, and it is remarkable that not only did the Early Church declare this opinion by councils, but the Church had sufficient influence to prevail with the later Roman Emperors, with Constantius, and to impress its opinion upon the Civil Law. It has been said, but this was in the days of the decline and fall—yes, the decline and fall of what? Of an Empire which contained within itself every element of permanence, except that strength that morality and religion alone can give. But let me come from ancient days to more modern times, and, first, I allude to that very remarkable declaration of opinion, the Westminster Confession of Faith, compiled within the precincts of the adjoining Abbey in 1643 by learned religious and earnest men. They gave prolonged consideration to this declaration, which was afterwards ratified and adopted by the Church of Scotland, and since then by the United Presbyterian Church, the Free Church, and by nearly all the Presbyterian churches throughout the world. Upon this subject the document speaks with no uncertain voice in the following terms:—Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the word; nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife. The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred, nearer in blood, than be may of his own; nor the woman of her husband's kindred, nearer in blood than of her ownI attach great importance to that, because the men who framed that declaration were not men likely to be influenced by Episcopal authority, or by any undue attachment to Ecclesiastical precedent. They were independent men, and we find them declaring an opinion in remarkable conformity with the Early Church. I have been somewhat surprised to hear it said by those who support this innovation that the Confession of Faith is losing its 1758 hold upon the people of Scotland. I cannot believe it. I think the Scotch people of to-day are as ready as their fathers were to go to the stake in defence of every line of the Confession, which they treasure as a most precious heritage. Here I will quote a declaration of opinion from representative men, given with authority, and not as expressions of individual opinion. I have avoided quoting individual authorities, for well we know that there is no heresy that will not find support from some eminent doctor or professor. But I quote this declaration as proof that in modern times the Confession of Faith has deep hold upon the Scotch people, and that this particular article is in harmony with the views of all classes of Scotch religious opinion. I refer to the declaration signed, some years ago, by nearly all the leading ministers of Scotland, including ministers of the Scotch Church—the United Presbyterian and the Free Church. Amongst the many names attached to the declaration are the following: Dr. Charles Brown, Dr. Begg, Dr. Robert Buchanan, Dr. John Cairns, Dr. Robert Candlish, Dr. Alexander Duff, Dr. Thomas Guthrie, Dr. Andrew Somerville, and Dr. Andrew Thompson. I hope I may say these are representative names—men, some of them now dead, of great influence in Scotland, and from them we learn what Scotch opinion on this point is. After representing the inconveniences that would arise from a change in the law, they say: "But how, on the other hand, does the case stand as to us, assuredly representing in this matter multitudes over the country who believe these marriages to be forbidden by God in His Word? It is with us no mere matter of 'Church Law,' but an article of our faith. As an article of faith, however, it has, of course, become over and above the law of our churches, which we have no choice but to administer in the way of shutting out from the table of the Lord Jesus those who have entered into these alliances—just as we should still be compelled to shut them out were the civil law changed and the alliances rendered valid as to civil effects." I think that is enough to show that the religious opinion of Scotland is clearly against such a Bill as this. Of course, it is said on this and on all 1759 other matters it is open to us to hold our private opinion; but here I should like to quote words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. He, speaking in this House on May 9, 1855, said—Private opinion may question the authority of the universal voice of Christians on this subject, hut it will question it exactly on the same ground that it may question the whole results that Christianity has brought to mankind, and everything that Christianity has elevated out of the region of private opinion.It is said that because in Catholic countries dispensations are sometimes granted that, therefore, there is no law of the Church forbidding such marriages. I demur, Mr. Speaker, to such an assertion. What does a dispensation prove? What does it mean? It means that in some particular case an exception to the law is allowed. Where it is necessary to have these dispensations, it proves the existence of the law. This is not a Bill dealing with dispensations; it is a question of abolishing the law. Because it seems to be suggested that the law of the Catholic Church does not forbid and annul these marriages, I must quote the opinion of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster expressed in a letter to his Vicar General—The law of the Catholic Church forbids and annuls the marriage with a deceased wife's sister. The law of England on this point is to this moment Catholic, and supports the discipline of the Church. The Holy See can alone dispense in such cases; and it never dispenses except (1) rarely; (2) with reluctance, and (3) for grave reasons and to avoid greater evils. To abolish the law which prohibits such marriages would have the effect of throwing open as lawful to everybody that which in a few rare and exceptional cases is reluctantly given to avoid greater evils.Now, that does not justify any general relaxation. There might be something to be said if this were a Bill to confer the power of dispensation upon an authority, the head of the State, or upon some other authority. Except Holland and Prussia, I do not know any European country in which such marriages can be solemnised without a dispensation of some kind. It is not, therefore, correct to say that these marriages are allowed by the law of the other countries of Europe. To pass from what I may call the religious aspect of the question, I will put before 1760 the House what I conceive to be grave reasons on other grounds. This is not a new question; it has been considered before; it was considered by those eminent jurists who framed the Code Napoléon, and, I think, hon. Members will admit that those who framed the Code Napoléon were not likely to be unduly influenced by any religious scruples. They had had experience, too, of the state of the law under which such marriages were allowed in the early days of the Revolution. You find that during the debate Claude Regnier, Grand Judge and Minister of Justice, affirmed that the permission given by the law of 1792 for the marriage of brothers and sisters-in-law had, as its consequence, brought trouble into families, and was the chief cause of the demands for divorce then before the Courts. Councillor Trouchet declared the prohibition was demanded for the sake of morality, as a safeguard against the dangers arising from familiarity. Councillor Maleville said all the Courts of Justice testified against these marriages. These are the opinions of men of great legal experience engaged in settling a system of jurisprudence; their testimony indicates grave social reasons why a Bill of this kind should not pass. The framers of the Italian Code, one of the most remarkable and the most recent of European Codes, adopted the same principle of prohibition. The late Pacifici-Mazzoni, in his celebrated Institutes of Italian Civil Law, says—Lastly, affinity forms an impediment to marriage in the direct line in the same way that legitimate parentela (relationship) does, and in the collateral line in the second degree only, i.e., between cognati (brothers-in-law) and cognate (sisters-in-law) without any distinction as to whether the marriage which produced the affinity still subsists, or has been dissolved by the death of the husband or wife.Commenting on the statutory prohibitions based on parentela and affinity, Mazzoni says that—The object of them is (leaving out of account the case of ascendants and descendants whose union excites horror) to remove together with the hope of marriage, all incentive to culpable desires and acts between persons living in the closest intimacy and with the fullest liberty under the same roof.It is on social and not on religious grounds that the Italian jurists maintain the prohibition. It is sometimes said 1761 that this law has been passed in America and has not affected the relations of social life. But I point to experience, and I say you find that in America the same results have followed as followed in France under a similar system. In Connecticut, where these marriages are allowed, the ratio of divorce to marriage is in some of the countries as one to seven; in Massachusetts it is as one to 21. How is it possible, with these examples before our eyes, with these startling results, to say there is no argument upon social considerations against this proposed change? Then it is said some of our colonies have adopted it. Well, we had a strange example within the last year of the development of opinion in reference to Divorce Law in Victoria, and it must have shocked many Members. You find in the colony the same result as was found under the French Republic, the same result as in America. Marriage which with us is regarded as a solemn obligation for life has become in Victoria a temporary contract, to be dissolved by three years' absence on either side. Is that a state of things to be regarded without horror; is that an example you are prepared to follow? Do you wish to see the whole Christian law of marriage abrogated? I do not blame Her Majesty's Ministers for not advising Her Majesty to refuse assent to the Bill—if you let water out it must flow on; but I earnestly warn the House against allowing a state of things to be instituted in this country which may lead to results so barbarous. When I heard of the passing of the Victoria Bill it brought to my mind some verses by a poet of the "Anti-Jacobin," familiar I daresay to many Members, in reference to the Marriage Laws of Otaheite, which, as there described, are a little in advance of the law now existing in Victoria. The poet professes cynical regret that we do not in this country enjoy the same liberty as is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the more genial climate of Otaheite—Of whist or cribbage mark the amusing game, The partners charging, but the sport the same; Yet must one man with one unceasing wife Play the long rubber of connubial life.I cannot sit down without saying a word on a remarkable provision in this Bill. It is not only a Bill to render these marriages lawful, but it is in itself a Marriage Bill. It is to marry 1762 people who are not husband and wife by the automatic effect of the Bill, when perhaps the man and woman have not seen each other for 30 years. Unless they have separated by formal agreement prior to the passing of the Act, two persons, by the operation of the Act, become man and wife. I cannot conceive anything more monstrous than to make two persons man and wife without their consent simply by passing an Act of Parliament. It is only an example of the difficulties that attend attempts at retrospective legislation of this kind. But it would not satisfy the promoters of the Bill unless its operations were retrospective, for what is the object? I think we all know the object of the Bill; it is to give an indemnity to those who have already broken the law. That is the object, and therefore the retrospective operation. You will find, when you come to consider the details of the Bill, that the difficulties of meddling with the long existing laws of marriage prevent the passing of such a clause as this. These are the reasons I submit to the House in support of my Motion for the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."— (Mr. Gainsford Bruce.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(1.20.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I second this Amendment, not only on religious grounds, but on social and domestic grounds. It was maintained by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading that the agitation in favour of this Bill came from the working classes, and more especially the agricultural working classes; but that is a statement I beg altogether to deny. I represent an agricultural constituency, and I live among agricultural people, and never, except in one instance, have I been asked by an agricultural labourer to vote in favour of this Bill. Indeed, I think it is well-known that such agitation as there is in favour of the Bill comes from a small circle among the highest class in the land, and I think it is pretty well-known that the agitation is kept up by subscriptions from 1763 rich men who pay a certain class of people who go round and obtain signatures to Petitions in favour of the Bill. Every Member of the House knows it is easy, if the means are provided, to get up Petitions—not that I have ever tried it myself. I believe the custom is to pay a certain number of people to travel about with Petitions and tout for signatures. With a little trouble and expense very large Petitions may be got up. I have heard of one gentleman who has expended some thousands of pounds in this way and in favour of this Bill. Then, also, let me remind hon. Members that the few people who have married, or wished to marry, their deceased wife's sister feel aggrieved at the state of the law and are active in promoting this Bill. But against these few there are thousands who are perfectly satisfied with the present state of the law, yet take no trouble to get up counter Petitions. Therefore, there are Members who take but a hike-warm interest in the subject, but who have yielded to the persistency of a few among their constituents, and have voted for the Bill not because they believe in it, but with the comforting assurance that it is sure to be thrown out by the House of Lords. I have not the slightest doubt that many Members have voted for the Bill, and, at the same time, thanked God we have a House of Lords. Should the Bill pass, I cannot see how the line of demarcation can be drawn at the deceased wife's sister; it must inevitably lead to intermarriage between all who are not blood relations. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading asks, how is it possible for a deceased wife's sister to undertake the care of the children of her deceased sister? There is no doubt in many cases she is the natural guardian of the children, and there is not now, as the law stands, the slightest impropriety in her acting as such under her brother-in-law's roof. I have known many such instances. Reference is frequently made to our colonies; but I say, if it is desirable there should be uniformity in the Marriage Laws, then let the colonies conform to our laws. We are not called upon to follow the lead of our colonies in this respect any more than we are to imitate them in their protective legislation. There is, moreover, a great distinction 1764 in the social conditions here and in the colonies. In the sparse and scattered populations of our colonies the males are in a large majority; but here, according to the last Census, the women are a million in excess of the male population. A large number of women remain unmarried, and it is natural that they should, in the relationship of brother and sister, occasionally find a home in their brother-in-law's house, and take care of his children. The conditions of life in the colonies are wholly different. Brother-in-law and sister-in-law are often comparative strangers; and, whatever reasons may exist for such a law in the colonies, they certainly do not apply here. I earnestly hope the House will not assent to the Second Reading. No necessity exists for any such change in our Marriage Laws which have worked so well and for so long—a change which is fraught with danger and disaster to the whole of our social and domestic life.
§ *(1.30.) MR. A. CAMERON CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I think the hon. Member's attempt to show that marriages such as are authorised by this Bill are against the ruling of Scripture was not very successful, and the very enumeration of the large number of cases in which marriage was forbidden makes the omission of this particular relationship the more striking; while the fact that there is a text specially preventing marriages of this sort during the lifetime of the wife showed that marriage with a deceased wife's sister was permitted. It appears to me strange that, upon the ground that the majority of the members of the Church of England accept a special interpretation of the Scriptures, all sections of the community should be bound by it. Allusion has been made by the hon. Member to the Westminster Confession of Faith; but that document has in many points become out of date, and if a new confession were written now the declaration it contained on this subject would certainly not find a place in it. The United Presbyterian Church of Scotland has appealed to its individual presbyteries, and a great majority of those presbyteries have declared in favour of the alteration of the law which this Bill seeks to bring about. The Convention 1765 of Royal and Parliamentary Burghs of Scotland has for the 16th time reported with absolute unanimity in favour of the proposal. 300 or 400 Presbyterian ministers have signed Petitions in favour of the Bill; and in Glasgow, in the short space of two weeks, it was found possible to get no fewer than 45,000 signatures to another Petition. The Presbyterian Church in America and in Canada have also, in the fullest manner, accepted the principle of this Bill. When the hon. Member who seconded the opposition to the Bill was dealing with the social advantages which, he says, arises from the present state of the law, I was rather puzzled to know how he could apply his remarks and arguments to the poorer populations. He told us that the movement, was mainly supported by wealthy people, who paid large sums of money in order to get up Petitions in its favour; but surely if the movement was so supported the powerful association which exists for opposing the Bill would have been equally effective in getting up Petitions on their side, if they had the same amount of public opinion in their favour. The hon. Member also -alluded to the fact that the deceased wife's sister frequently took charge of the children, and that it would be difficult for her to do so if the Bill were passed. But in advancing that argument did the hon. Member bear in mind the small size of the houses occupied by the greater part of the population? In Glasgow, for example, a quarter of the families live in one-roomed houses, and the majority of the remainder live in two-roomed houses. I do trust that this House will again affirm that the social argument used on behalf of the rich shall not be allowed to stand in the way of reasonable rights being extended to the poorer portion of the community, for whom a Bill of this kind is so much required.
§ *(1.40.) SIR JOHN PULESTON (Devonport)
I feel compelled to enter my protest against many of the arguments which have been adduced by my hon. Friend who has seconded the opposition to the Bill. My hon. Friend says that the measure is promoted by the richer classes, and he argued that because rich men contributed to the promotion of the 1766 movement, therefore there is no genuine demand for an alteration of the law. But surely the hon. Member knows that someone must always contribute towards the expenses of carrying on any reasonable agitation, and because those contributions are not always forthcoming from the poorer classes it by no means follows that the demand for alteration in the law is not legitimate. I think that if my hon. Friend went more fully into the subject he would find that the poor classes as well as the rich are anxious for this reform. I have paid some attention to this matter for a good many years, and have come to the conclusion that a large body of the working men of the country who cannot themselves afford to subscribe funds for this reform believe that it is essential and desirable that it should be carried. I do not believe that the marriages which the Bill sanction will be multiplied in any marked degree by reason of the passing of the measure; and, taking into consideration the fact that the colonies have passed laws which have been sanctioned by the Queen in Council allowing these marriages to take place, I think it is only right that similar legislation should prevail in this country. But I do not ask, however, that the Bill shall be carried simply because the colonies have adopted a similar measure. My hon. Friend has referred to the question of personal hardship upon British subjects all over the world, and has, of course, admitted that although these marriages are legal in the colonies the children of such marriages when they come to this country are declared by the law to be illegitimate. My hon. Friend has referred also to the question of Petitions. He said they were paid for by the yard. I have had something to do with presenting Petitions on the subject to the House of Commons, and I venture to say that I have never during all the years I have been in the House presented Petitions of so genuine a character, and with so much feeling behind them, as the Petitions I have presented in favour of this Bill. I was, indeed, rather shocked to hear my hon. Friend making those observations. He made also a serious charge against Members of this House. He said that many hon. Members voted for the Bill against their convictions, feeling 1767 thankful that there is a House of Lords to throw it out. My estimate of hon. Members of this House is not so low as that. I believe that there never has been a more genuine majority in support of any Bill brought forward in this House. My hon. Friend has referred to the question of blood relationship. I think that in this enlightened period—this latter end of the 19th century—the less our opponents have to say on that subject the better it will be for them. We know that no blood relationship can be closer than that between first cousins, excepting, of course, the relationship between brother and sister; and yet we are well aware that marriages between first cousins are of constant occurrence. We know, further, that there is no actual blood relationship between a man and his deceased wife's sister. I am not, I repeat, arguing in favour of this measure solely because it has been passed by the colonies. They have passed the law, and have done so with the full knowledge of what they are doing, because they saw in it, as we see in it, a great principle; and the fact that the principle has been recognised by so many Legislatures proves that there is a very strong demand for a reform of this character. I hope the House will, by a very much larger majority than usual, accept the Second Reading of this Bill. I have every possible appreciation of the honesty of the convictions of those who are opposed to it. I do not charge them, as an hon. Member has attempted to charge its supporters, with being animated by convictions entirely at variance with their votes. I give them credit for having strong opinions on the subject. I believe, however, that they are wrong, and that they are acting in the interests of a small minority of the people; whereas those who are supporting the Second Reading are acting in the interests of all classes of the community.
§ (1.50.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I am not a very likely person to say at any time, "Thank God we have a House of Lords," but I do trust that as long as the House of Lords continues to exist it will prevent the passing of such legislation as this. I have always voted against the measure, and I shall continue 1768 to do so, because I believe that by adopting it we should be taking one step forward in that anti-Christian, antisocial revolution which is making such insidious advances throughout Europe, and manifestations of which are plainly written on the face of Europe at the present time. At the same time, I cannot say I am willing to associate myself with all the arguments which have been adduced against the Bill. The reference, for instance, to the Divorce Laws of Henry VIII. and his servile Parliamentare scarcely worthy of consideration by anyone who recollects what that gentleman's matrimonial relations were. Again, as to the West minister Confession of Faith, hon. Members will remember that it was drawn up in the days of the Vicar of Bray, a gentleman who said one thing when one Government came in, and another when another Government came in. The grounds upon which I oppose the measure are the grounds which have been accpted by Christendom from its beginning. As soon as the Christian authority was recognised it became a social law that the relations between a man and his wife's sister should be regarded as identically the same as his relations with his own sister. After the days of Julian the Apostate the Emperor Valentinian enlarged the Code so as to prohibit marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and afterwards Theodosius in the West and Arcadius in the East extended the prohibition to the whole Empire, and from that time the prohibition has been enforced. I have sometimes been met with the challenge that many of the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, of which I am a member, are in favour of the present measure. Well it is true that some Catholic Bishops have, in more or less explicit terms, expressed themselves in favour of some such proposal, but is the reason which influences these Bishops a reason which ought to influence us? Ask those very Bishops who are in favour of the removal of the civil disabilities attending marriage with a deceased wife's sister whether they are also in favour of the removal of the ecclesiastical disabilities, and the reply will be in the negative. If the civil disabilities are removed, the Bishops and Authorities of the Catholic Church will still maintain 1769 their ecclesiastical canons and rules precisely as they stand at present. Why? Because the considerations and reasons which have swayed the authorities of the Roman Empire and the Christian Church for at least 1,500 years are just as strong in their operation as ever they were. Unless we allow to the agnates of a, man the same freedom in domestic relations as is enjoyed by the cognates, we shall embarrass all family life, and family life is the foundation of Christian and social order. If you attack the family life you attack the whole social order, Christian and natural, and it is because this proposal is an attack upon the integrity and freedom of family relationship that it is important in the interests of social and Christian order to resist it to the utmost. As to the hardships which it is said this measure would prevent, are there not other means by which they can be prevented? We are told that the colonies have passed measures which are absolutely at variance with the law of this country. That difficulty can easily be got over. There is such a principle as the lex loci contractus, and if Parliament is desirous of removing the anomaly of one law prevailing in the colonies and another law prevailing in this country, let it provide that the law of a colony shall, in matrimonial matters, be recognised as valid here in the interests of those married in the colony Then it is said that difficulties arise in connection with the devolution of property, but those difficulties can be obviated under the existing law, for a father whose children are by the law illegitimate can provide for the descent of his property to them by naming them individually in his will. Then, why should not Parliament introduce a dispensing power, to be applied to cases with respect to which such power might reasonably be exercised? Looking at the general question, I consider this proposal to be an insidious and most dangerous attack upon that which constitutes the essential unit of Christian and civilised society, namely, the family life, and, as such, I shall oppose it. (2.0.)
§ (2.18.) MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
Sir, several speakers have referred to this subject as a very old one. Unfortunately 1770 it is true that the question is a very old one. Year after year for the last 50 years the people have declared that marriages such as these which we are now discussing ought to be made legitimate. We have heard a good deal as to the law in other countries than this. We have been referred to the Ecclesiastical Councils and to the Early Ages, but we have not heard from the beginning of the Debate until this moment a single reference to the modern law of England which forbids these marriages. The law which makes void the marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister is not a law which depends for its sanction upon the views taken by the Councils of the Church in the fourth or later centuries. It does not depend upon the views of learned doctors in modern times. It depends simply and solely upon the Act passed in 1835, which makes these marriages void and illegal. But up to the passing of that Act these marriages were not void and the children were not illegitimate. These marriages were what is known as "voidable." That is to say, unless someone chose to raise a suit in the Ecclesiastical Courts to set aside the marriage it remained a perfectly valid one, the children remained perfectly legitimate; and if one of the parties died before any such proceedings were taken the marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister was as good by the law of England as any other marriage in this Kingdom. The hon. Member (Mr. Bruce) referred to the Councils of the Church, and to the opinions of learned Judges, but he did not refer to the Act of Parliament by which these marriages are made illegal, and by which the children of such marriages are bastardised.
§ *MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE
These marriages were always illegal, though, no doubt, if one of the parties died before proceedings were taken, they could not afterwards be set aside. Never, in any period of our law, were these marriages legal.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
Here is the Act of Parliament, which no one can dispute—the Act known as Lord Lyndhurst's Act, 1771 and it was introduced, I believe, to favour persons who contracted marriages of this kind. If these marriages were immoral, why, in the name of common sense, did the House of Commons, supported by the full Bench of Bishops, enact that all such marriages previously contracted were absolutely legal and good, and the children legitimate?
§ *MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE
I can hardly assent to that. These marriages were always illegal. There never was a period when they were legal. There was nothing to prevent proceedings for incest.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
Did the hon. and learned Gentleman ever hear of such a thing as a prosecution for incest? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think he can find in any text book of the English law a single authority in favour of an indictment for incest, in relation to a connection of this character? Such a thing does not exist in the law of England. It is merely a question of moral connection, but in Scotland the law is slightly different. It might be that prosecutions might take place in Scotland, under certain circumstances, on the ground of incest. But I should like to hear my hon. and learned Friend say whether, from the day he was called to the English Bar, he has ever had brought to his practical knowledge a case of incest? I repeat, that up to the time of the Statute of 1835, these marriages were legal to this extent, that the children were legitimate, unless proceedings were taken to set their legitimacy aside. It was very rarely that such proceedings were taken. The marriages were voidable, but were not necessarily void. Nobody could upset them in the Ecclesiastical Courts, or elsewhere, except proceedings were taken during the period I have mentioned. It is strange that those who oppose this Bill make no reference to the Act of 1835. There was a Royal Commission which sat upon this question, and the President of that Commission was the Bishop of Lichfield. That Commission, after having carefully examined the whole case, reported that the Act was operating badly, and was tending to immorality; and, further, they 1772 put before Parliamentand the country their opinion that the Act ought not to be continued. When my hon. and learned Friend talked about the respect we all owe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, I think he ought to have somewhat refreshed his recollection with regard to the details of that creed, because in the very chapter which forbids these marriages of affinity, as well as of consanguinity, the Confession of Faith declares in the strongest terms against marriages with infidels, with Papists, and with other idolators. Is my hon. Friend prepared to abide by every line of this Confession of Faith, and, if necessary, to go to the stake to render illegitimate and void marriages between members of the Scottish Church and Infidels, Papists, and other idolators? It is useless to suppose that we should take, line by line, the articles of creeds drawn up centuries ago as if every word of those articles was of Divine inspiration. I should like to point out to my hon. and learned Friend that the position of the Confession of Faith is the position of a creed which has been ratified by Act of Parliament. My hon. Friend nods his head to that statement, which, indeed, cannot be denied. But what does the ratification of the Westminster Confession of Faith amount to? It amounts to this, that the Westminster Confession of Faith is the Confession of Faith of the Church of Scotland and kindred Churches, but it does not render the law of the land for every purpose affirmed. This is a point of some importance, and I must cite upon it the opinion of a great authority, Lord Fraser, before he became Lord Fraser. This is what he says—The ratification of the Confession of Faith does not make everything set forth in that hook the law of the land. It amounts to no more than this, that the Confession is the Confession of the Established Church of Scotland, and I adopt the view expressed by Lord Advocate Rutherford, on the 1st of March, 1848, given to the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the state and operation of the law of marriage, whose Report was presented in that year to Parliament, that the ratification of the Confession of Faith cannot be held to constitute a legislative construction of the statutes which regulate this subject, namely, the Acts 1567, cap. 14, and 1567, cap. 15.This very eminent lawyer gave his own opinion as follows:— 1773'I think it right to add that I am in the knowledge of this; that it has been the opinion of some very eminent lawyers in Scotland that the marriage is a good marriage; that the issue of the marriage, of course, would be legitimate; and that all the regular consequences would follow from that marriage that follow from a regular marriage; and in so far as I have been able to form a judgment, although I stand very much shaken, and am placed in great doubt, from the weight of the Institutional Authorities against me, I am rather inclined to think that that marriage would be a lawful marriage, and have all the consequences of a lawful marriage.'— (Report of Royal Commissioners, p. 101.) I concur in this opinion.There can be no doubt that the law of 1835 in England has not operated well from a moral point of view, and that, so far as the law of Scotland is concerned, according to the best authorities at the present time, there is some doubt as to how the law really stands. Reference is made to other countries. The Roman Catholic Church—however little many of us may concur in its principles and practices—embraces, I presume, the vast majority of the Christian nations of the world. Well, amongst the Roman 'Catholics, for ages, it has happened that these marriages have been allowed. According to the Roman Catholics it is not contrary to Divine law that these marriages should be contracted. It is contrary to the law of the Church. I am almost afraid to tread on such foreign territory as the law which governs and regulates the Roman Catholic Church; but I confess I have always believed that what is considered to be absolutely the Divine law—the law of God—cannot be dispensed even by the Pope himself, and that what can be dispensed are the regulations and discipline of the Church, a very different matter. I have always understood that in the Roman Catholic Church nothing can be dispensed which is found laid down in black and white in the Scriptures, but that in matters of discipline, such as the prohibition of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, dispensations are granted from day to day. I say, therefore, that we could not have a stronger proof that among this large body of Christians the prohibition of these marriages is not regarded as a prohibition founded on the word of God, but is regarded only as an ecclesiastical rule or law; no doubt a law of great 1774 authority, but one which, having been made by the Church, may be dispensed with by the Church. Surely it is too much that, after all this, the argument should be brought forward by my hon. and learned Friend, with great zeal and genuineness, that we are outraging the commonest sentiments of Christianity in proposing these marriages. We are doing nothing of the sort. We are proposing to make legitimate, by the law of England, marriages which are legitimated every day in Roman Catholic countries, by virtue of the Papal dispensation. It is far from my wish to speak disrespectfully of the Papal dispensation, but surely if the Papal dispensation can make the relations between a man and a woman perfectly moral, an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom can do no less. I do not know that I look on this question in precisely the same way as many hon. Gentlemen in this House, but it does not come well from them to tell us that we are legitimating an immoral connection when those they most respect are legitimating and validating it every day. What have been the fruits of the law of 1835 in England? Ten or 12 years after it was passed the Royal Commission reported that it was working badly and acting in the direction of immorality. Surely, that is important, and it behaves those who take an opposite view to show that the Commissioners were mistaken. The opponents of the Bill are unable to point to a single verse of Scripture which is directly antagonistic to these marriages. The words in Leviticus, which they rely upon, have reference to marriages of another kind, and I say, therefore, that we should deal with this matter practically and in accordance with the wants of the present day. I know it is easy to cite opinions in Scotland of some years ago against these marriages. It was for a long time supposed that they were forbidden by the Divine law in express terms, and, of course, if that was so, neither the Pope of Rome nor anyone else could abrogate the law. If the law is abrogated it is a sign that the law is founded upon other than Divine authority. In Scotland I maintain that there has been a growing feeling in favour of this Bill. Every year you find fewer and 1775 fewer persons who are against it. I can cite on this point no less an authority than Principal Rainey, who declares that he is strongly opposed to measures of this kind and regrets the backsliding of many of his Colleagues who take a different view from himself. The question has now been discussed for 63 years, and we think it is high time to put an end to it. The Bill has, almost without exception, been supported by majorities in this House, whichever Party has happened to be in power. If people want to contract these marriages I think we can show no prohibition against it, and I think we ought to have regard to the Report of the Commissioners, who say it would be to the advantage of morality in this country if such marriages were legalised.
§ *(2.42.) MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
I am afraid that, notwithstanding the seductive arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I must give to this Bill the same opposition as I have given to it for years past, and as I suppose I must say I hope to give to it for many years to come. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down referred to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but did not quite accurately quote it. He stated that marriages with infidels and Papists are placed on the same level as marriages within the prohibited degrees.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
It was in reference to a, remark that was made about not going to the State. I said every line of the Confession of Faith implied going to the State.
§ *MR. J. G. TALBOT
I only want to draw attention to the fact that the Confession says that marriages between the prohibited degrees are such, as cannot, under any circumstances, be made lawful, whilst the others are only discouraged. The real gist of our opposition to this Bill is that these marriages between the prohibited degrees of affinity have always, up to recent times, been regarded by the universal consent of Christendom in the same light as marriages within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. The hon. Member has referred to the Papal dispensation, but he must remember that that dispen- 1776 sation is also given in the case of marriages within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. I am sorry to say that recently, in a very notable case, a dispensation was given to a marriage between an uncle and his niece. Of course, I have nothing to do with the way in which the Roman Catholics settle these matters among themselves, but I must point out that the argument which the hon. Gentleman bases on the Papal dispensation will lead him much further than I think he wishes to go. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading called the Bill a honoured guest. I should have thought that, after being so often submitted to the House, the measure might have had a little honourable repose. He says the principle of the Bill has been affirmed in 80 Divisions. I think that, in order to make up that number, he has included Divisions in Committee on the clauses.
§ *MR. J. G. TALBOT
The hon. Gentleman made a still more striking statement. He said a large number of the clergy of the Church of England desired to see this measure passed into-law. I am unable to admit the accuracy of that statement. Again, with regard to the assertion of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir J. Puleston) that this is a poor man's question, that is a point in regard to which I have the most profound scepticism. The late Lord Hatherley took pains to make an investigation among the working classes in the City of Westminster on this question, and the result was that there was not the slightest demand on their part for the passing of such a measure. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport argues in favour of the Bill on what he calls the highest grounds of principle. That is a very grandiloquent statement, but, in my opinion, the supporters of the measure have not got a shred of principle amongst them. They have not the courage of their convictions. The Bill, if passed, would unsettle the whole of our Marriage Laws. If once it were carried, there is no limit to the distance we must be prepared to go. We must sweep away all the degrees of affinity, 1777 and afterwards the degrees of consanguinity. In other countries where this change has taken place that has been the result. Lord Cairns, speaking in the House of Lords on the Marriage Laws in the United States, said a man might there marry a mother and her daughter one after the other. He went on to say that Americans would tell us that conjugal infidelity was unknown among them, but the fact was that the conjugal vow was never broken, because if it ever became irksome there was no difficulty in getting rid of it altogether. I must say a few words on the terms of the Bill itself. The 1st clause says that a marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister shall not be voidUnless either of the parties has married some other person before the passing of this Act, or the parties have been separated by decree, or have agreed in writing to separate, and have thenceforth lived separate until the passing of this Act or the death of one of them.I do not see why subsequent misconduct should nullify a previous marriage, if it is to be considered a marriage at all. The 2nd section contains the strange provision of which the hon. Member made so much. It provides that no clergyman of the Church of England, or minister of the Church of Scotland, shall be liable to any prosecution or suit for either performing, or refusing to perform, such a marriage, and it proceeds to enact that no incumbent shall be at liberty to refuse permission for persons so related, who would otherwise have a right to be married in his church, to be married there by any other clergyman if he himself declines to perform it. A more strange concession, or a more deliberate affront to the religious convictions of the clergy, I cannot imagine. If this Bill has any principle at all it must mean that the relatives of the wife are in law no relatives whatever of the husband. Hon. Members who support the Bill neither have the courage of their own convictions nor appreciate the real grounds of the opposition to the measure. The conviction that underlies our opposition to this Bill is this, that the marriage law is one consistent whole, and that upon that marriage law, as upon one great pillar and foundation, social life 1778 exists. When you weaken that foundation you weaken that upon which social life is built up. We take it on the ground of the universal consent of Christendom, and upon the teaching of the great Founder of our religion, that man and wife are one flesh. Upon that basis we believe society to be formed. If you weaken that foundation, if you take away the props by which the Marriage Law of Christendom is supported, there is no knowing what will follow. Where countries have departed from these universal doctrines of Christendom they have gone on from one change to another. In the last few weeks we have had a lamentable example of how, when you once begin to tamper with these foundations, the whole fabric shows signs of tottering. One of our own colonies, having first interfered with the Marriage Law, has now altered the Law of Divorce. I must apologise to the House for having detained it so long on a matter which is worn threadbare. It is a question, however, on which I have strong convictions, and I trust the House will never consent to the passing of the Bill.
§ *(3.4.) MR. T. FRY (Darlington)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has certainly the courage of his convictions, for year after year he has endeavoured to impress his views on us in the most consistent manner. If, as he says, the social fabric of our society is to stand on this law, it certainly is in a very weak and precarious condition, but I have no doubt that in his inmost heart he does not believe that the great social fabric will totter to its foundations if a change is made in a law which has only been in existence in its present form since 1835. The other day a very respectable woman wrote to me as to her projected marriage with her deceased husband's brother. Of course, I had to write and explain the law to her, but a ceremony of marriage was gone through between them, and they are now living together. The fact of the law being as it is does not really prevent these marriages taking place. People either contract in other countries marriages which are not legal here, or they live together without going through any marriage ceremony whatever; and I think when we consider the result 1779 of things of this kind upon the children in after life we ought to do oar best to remove the stigma which now attaches to them. An hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of Leviticus. If there is one chapter of the Book of Leviticus so binding upon us socially, surely all the other chapters are also. I would like to ask the hon. Member why he does not keep the seventh day of the week as a day of rest, and whether he would approve of a person being stoned to death for picking up sticks on that day? With the law in its present state, great difficulty sometimes arises from the fact that the legal enactments of almost all our colonies on this point differ from our own. About two years ago there was an account in all the newspapers of a man coming to this country after having married his deceased wife's sister in one of the Australian colonies. He brought his wife home with him, but, being somewhat fickle, he repudiated her and married again. Just see the anomaly. If that man were to go back to Australia, the wife he married in the colonies would be his legal wife, and the second marriage would be illegal. In this country, on the other hand, the second is the legal wife, while the first is not married at all. It seems to me to show there is something anomalous and wrong in our Parliamentary system when the Representatives of the people have to pass this Bill time after time, but cannot succeed in making it the law of the land, because a comparatively small number of persons are placing themselves in the way of the proposed change. It is said that, if the Bill passes, other great alterations will be made in the Marriage Law—in other words, if we do right, evil consequences will follow. To my mind we ought to do what is right and to set aside all unworthy fears as to the consequences of our action.
§ *(3.9.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
Those who oppose this Bill feel that, as far as it goes, it will undermine to a certain extent the social fabric, and will do much to injure domestic peace. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to hard cases. I would remind him that hard cases make bad law. When he refers to the difficulty of the Australian who 1780 has married his wife's sister and returns to this country, and finds she is no longer his wife, I would point out to him that the same difficulty occurs to the wife of the Shah of Persia, when she happens to be travelling in this country. The retrospective clauses of this Bill would, however, in the case he has cited, endow his Australian friend with two wives—and I leave him to solve the problems of legitimacy between the two wives and the two families. The constituencies do not care much about this Bill, or we should have had a larger House to-day, and we who oppose the measure would not have been compelled to rush into the House in order to make a quorum. In the last debate on this subject it was said to be all humbug to declare that the working men are in favour of this Bill,. and I believe that to be perfectly true. The measure is pressed forward by a small number of people who are what is called respectable, and it is a delusion to parade the interests of the working man as involved in a change of the Marriage Law. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading did not take the trouble to adduce any arguments in support of it,, and said the arguments against the change were all old. To my mind old arguments, until they have been answered, are much better than new ones. The hon. Member fell back on the assertion that he had a pocketful of letters, which he did not read. I expect that most of those letters are written by persons who are interested in the matter—persons who have already broken the law, or who want to be relieved of the effects of their violation of it. Whenever I receive letters of that sort I always write back to my correspondent and say, "The fact of your being anxious to see the Bill passed because you have broken the law is the strongest argument that could be brought forward against the measure." The hon. Member has referred us to former Debates. Let me recall some of the arguments. Lord Palmerston, who always voted for this Bill, was in the habit of giving two reasons. Though Lord Palmerston could not be called a theologian, he probably expressed the average opinion of the Liberal Party. His favourite argument was that every facility should be given to every man to 1781 escape having more than one mother-in-law, and the other was that every man should marry according to his own taste, and he did not see why a man should not marry his own grandmother. The present leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gladstone) has also spoken on the subject, and his speech, uttered many years ago, and never withdrawn or explained away, contains a perfect répertoire of the arguments that can be used against the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) told us last year we ought to pass this Bill because a host of half-educated people and the Jews, Turks, and Chinese are in favour of it. Much as I respect Jews, Turks, and Chinese, I think it is hard that a change of law should be imposed on the English people because Jews, Turks, and Chinese are in favour of it. We have also had paraded before us by the hon. Member for Essex and others what they call the consensus of opinion of the civilised world, a phrase we have heard used before in support of other political and legislative changes. The hon. Member appealed to Europe, but Europe, in his opinion, must consist of Holland, Russia, and Turkey, for they are the only nations in Europe in which marriage with a deceased wife's sister is lawful at the present time. The hon. Member referred to the colonies, but I presume the hon. Member leaves out of the list all the Crown colonies, and such colonies as the Cape of Good Hope and Natal, for marriage with wife's sister is illegal there, as it is in Great Britain. The hon. Member contended that the state of things in the United States affords a good argument in favour of his measure, but every one knows that the Marriage Laws in the United States are such that the greatest anxiety is entertained by all intelligent Americans with regard to the state of society to which the present law of marriage and divorce will lead. I have heard of one American who married three sisters in succession, and used to tell a fourth sister, "Kitty, don't lose heart, your time will come." All the Christian churches are opposed to such marriages, and so are the two great Codes, the Code Napoléon and the new Italian Code — Codes which were certainly not framed on Church 1782 principles. But the Bill is retrospective. It will create by Act of Parliament many marriages. If the Bill passes I do not know how many couples will be united in the bonds of matrimony without. Then, again, even their consent being obtained, I object to it upon the ground-that it is retrograde legislation with regard to women. Why are women to be placed in this matter on a different footing to men? The tendency of the present day is to place women on the same footing as men, but it is not proposed to allow a woman to unite herself with a deceased husband's brother. Again, the promoters of the Bill say that the present law is very hard upon women. Let the women speak for themselves. Next, they maintain that a sister-in-law makes the best nurse for the children of her sister. If they are to go on that principle, I should say that the mother-in-law will make the best housekeeper, and best nurse for her grand-children. It is the mother-in-law, then, that they should have regard for. It was suggested not long ago that we should wait until women obtain the franchise, and then introduce this Bill. That is a very good suggestion, because if women possess votes better means will be afforded of forming a just opinion upon this subject. I object to the Bill, because it is wanting in logic, because it will destroy the principle upon which the present system is founded, without supplying us with a principle upon which to re-construct it, because it will have an injurious social influence, and because it will destroy domestic peace in many homes, merely for the satisfaction of a comparatively few persons.
§ *(3.23.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
The hon. Member for Shrop shire (Mr. S. Leighton) referred to what he was pleased to call the delusion of the working man in favour of this measure; but when he did that he entirely destroyed the argument of his Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Talbot), who said the working men were not in favour of the proposed: change of the law. I believe the working men are in favour of it. I believe they are under no delusion whatever, but are of opinion that the measure will be of great benefit to them. Some hon. 1783 Members opposite have shown great anxiety for the deceased husband's brother. Are any of them prepared to put an Amendment on the Paper, and to ask the House to accept it? The fact of the matter is, that hon. Members know that, on both sides of the House, there is the strongest objection to such an Amendment, and they only trot it out because they hope to catch some votes by bringing it forward. The promoters of the Bill are perfectly willing to meet hon. Gentlemen opposite in every possible way they can in Committee, but I state, in the face of the House, that we are not prepared to extend the Bill one jot or tittle. The Bill is intended to promote uniformity between the Mother Country and the Colonies, and if we adopt the suggestion to extend the measure to other degrees of affinity we shall, instead of promoting uniformity throughout the British Empire, make confusion worse confounded. We desire to repeal the unjust restrictions of the Act of 1835, and beyond that we do not desire to go. The hon. Member for the University of Oxford complained about the wording of the 2nd clause. In that clause it is stated that no clergyman shall be liable to prosecution for refusing to perform the marriage ceremony in the case contemplated by the Bill. But then, if a clergyman has a scruple, he must not prevent another clergyman taking his place because he has a right over the church. If there are words in any of the clauses which can be fairly altered without trenching on the principle of the Bill, the supporters of the measure will willingly accept such alteration. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) in introducing the Bill hoped some new argument would be brought forward. The hon. and learned Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gainsford Bruce) complied with that request, for he brought forward a new and very curious argument for an hon. Gentleman learned in the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the rule of marriage we are anxious to alter has existed in the country for centuries. Surely the learned Gentleman must be aware that the Act which we desire to repeal has only existed since 1835 Does the hon. and learned Member mean to say that by the Common 1784 Law before 1835 these marriages were illegal?
§ *MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE
By the Common Law such marriages were not set aside; that could only be done by sentence of the Ecclesiastical Court. The Act does not affect the validity of the marriage.
§ *MR. HENEAGE
Before 1835, unless the marriage was impeached, it was legal, and the validity of the marriage could only be impeached during the lifetime of the husband. You might as well say that no marriages are legal in this country because when the banns are given out somebody may raise an objection to the marriage taking place. It was during the lifetime of the husband such a marriage could only be impeached, but if he died before impeachment then the wife became a widow legally, and his children were deemed legitimate. But that is not the case now, when the man dies the wife is not considered a widow, and his children are not considered legitimate, and should the man leave any property in this country, or if a colonist comes to this country, resides here and dies here, and leaves wife and children after such a marriage, these have to pay the full amount of Legacy Duty precisely as if they were not related to the dead husband and father. The law, I say, is a very different thing to what it was before 1835. It was a strange peculiarity in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman that he, having laid down certain matters of fact, went back almost to the dark ages to prove them, and said little of later history. We are accused of attacking an outpost while it is said we have designs against the whole degrees of affinity. But there is no reason to doubt our good faith when we say, as we have said on previous occasions, that our only object is to repeal the restriction that now prevails, and prevails in this country alone, to marriage between a man and his deceased wife's sister. I was very much surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a stout Churchman, found himself on the position of the Church of Rome regarding these marriages. I can accept such an argument coming from the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. 1785 O'Connor), because he speaks as a believer in the discipline of his Church, but for a member of the Church of England to contend that marriages are against Divine law, which can take place by the dispensation of the head of another Church, appears to me to be but a sorry argument for a Member of the Church of England to use. May I remind the House of some facts in regard to the Act of 1835, which have been little thought of in debate? Prior to 1835, as I have already stated, these marriages were not void at Common Law, unless they were impeached during the lifetime of the man contracting the marriage, and, in 1835, when the Bill was brought forward, those who promoted the change of the law had no intention to prevent these marriages; their object was to prevent the impeachment of them for more than a limited time; but they found that they could not carry their Bill, and so they agreed to an iniquitous bargain, by which the marriages that had taken place were made legal and all future marriages were made absolutely illegal. I cannot imagine how Bishops of the Church of England came to make such a compromise. If they believed such marriages were wrong they ought never to have consented to the sanction of previous marriages. This law was never accepted by the people of England; it was against public opinion. On previous occasions I have quoted the opinion of Lord Francis Egerton, who stated the law was not accepted, and never had been, and the Royal Commission to which the hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A. Elliot) has referred declared that the law was immoral from its very foundation, and had ever been bad for the people. We have heard again to-day something of the Scriptural argument. Now, this Scriptural argument was never worth much, and it becomes worth less year by year. We have had a recent revision of the Scriptures, and the revision of the passage upon which reliance in this argument is placed has shown there is nothing in it. We have had a Colonial Conference in London, at which Colonial Representatives protested against Her Majesty's subjects being allowed to contract marriages in the colonies, and yet, coming here, find those marriages de- 1786 clared illegal. We have had a German revision of the Scriptures, too, and the learned President, Dr. Schroder, has expressed his opinion that marriage with a deceased wife's sister is not forbidden by the Mosaic law, and that the passage so much relied on to prove the objection is only directed against a man taking the sister during his wife's life-time and setting up the sisters as rivals. The chief Jewish Authorities have unanimously confirmed this view, and hold that the Rabbinical Law does not forbid marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and we must accept them as being able to give a better opinion on the reading of the 18th chapter of Leviticus than the hon. and learned Member. How is this restriction kept up? It is not kept up by the wish of the Representatives of the people in this House, it is kept up by the vote of the Bishops in another place, who prevent these marriages, not only in their own church but in all other churches. If this were only Church Law, only Church of England churches would be affected by it; but being the law of the land it operates against such marriages in all churches throughout Great Britain and Ireland. We know, as a matter of fact, that many of the Church of England, many Presbyterian Churches, and many churches outside England, who follow the Anglican form, are in favour of the restriction being removed.
§ *MR. HENEAGE
My right hon. Friend disputes that; but I think results show that I am stating a fact. Have not many of our Colonies passed laws legalising such marriages? But I do not wish to detain the House at greater length. I should have liked to have had more Members taking part in the Debate, and I should be glad to have the question settled. If our opponents have public opinion on their side, let them show it. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading said he had had no experience in getting up Petitions; but here he might have 1787 found an opportunity for trying his hand, and sure I am that his experience would have shown him unmistakably that he had not public opinion on his side. It is not by the wish of the Representatives of the people that the law is maintained; but it is maintained by the votes of a few hereditary Peers and of the Bishops in the House of Lords; and but for these votes this Bill would have been the law of the land many years ago.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
The arguments on this subject have been stated so often that it is not surprising there is not a full attendance of Members; but when great interests are involved in the assertion of a principle it behaves those who maintain it not to be slow to avow their convictions, and to resist to the last a change in the law which they deem to be inexpedient, and not in harmony with the general sentiments of society. Often as the arguments for a change have been stated, as they have just been put by the right hon. Gentleman they seem more shadowy and less convincing than ever. They chiefly rest upon the inclinations of individuals to contract marriages which are contrary to the Civil and to the Ecclesiastical Law, upon the fact that some foreign countries and some British colonies have altered their laws, and upon assertions that public opinion in this country is in favour of a change in the law. It is to be regretted that a larger number of Members did not hear the statements made with so much ability and fulness by the hon. Members for the Holborn Division and the University of Oxford. It is still necessary, I think, that such statements as have been made by the hon. Member for Darlington and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby should be met at once with the denial which, in my opinion, it is very easy to give to them. The hon. Member for Darlington has said that there is urgent need for an alteration of the law, because there are people who, in defiance of the law, have entered into these marriages. Unfortunately, it happens that a great many persons reject the duty of marriage before cohabitation, and spend their lives in a state of sin; 1788 but it does not follow that on that account the ordinance of marriage should be done away with. It is not for the sake of the breakers of the law that a law should be abolished. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby has referred to the difference of the law in the colonies. I know something about the law in the colonies, as I happened to be Governor of the colony of South Australia, when that colony, the first of all the colonies, passed the law legalising marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and I am in a position to say that the agitation on the subject was altogether artificial and factitious. The measure was passed in opposition to the whole religious conviction of the colony, and there is not at this moment one clergyman of the Church of England in that colony who will celebrate these marriages. I ventured, therefore, to dissent from the right hon. Gentleman when he stated that church feeling in the colonies was in favour of the change. For some years after the passing of the Act for South Australia there was one clergyman, of no very good reputation, who solemnised these marriages for the sake of the high fees exacted; but now, I say, no clergyman in the colony will solemnise these marriages. I do not think that that shows that the church opinion of the colony is in favour of the law. It is quite true that a majority of the House of Commons has in successive years passed this Bill, and that it has only been thrown out by a majority in the House of Lords, composed, no doubt, partly of Bishops. I do not know what the Bishops sit in the House of Lords for unless they are prepared to maintain the Christian element in our laws. At all events, I do not think the House of Lords would have rejected this Bill year after year had public sentiment in the country been so strong as has been represented. In my opinion, the House of Lords better expresses the feeling of the country on this subject than the House of Commons. I am not aware that there is any such manifestation of public opinion as will justify anybody in saying that the country is in favour of a change in the law. I have the honour to represent a popular constituency, very largely composed of working men, and I have received no representation whatever to that effect. I think 1789 if the working men of Manchester do not put any such pressure upon their Representative I have a right to conclude that there is no strong feeling among the working classes in favour of this proposal. It is a device, I had almost said a hypocritical device, to represent this movement as emanating from the working classes. The hon. Member for Roxburgh has expressed some doubt as to the law of Scotland on the subject.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
It was an opinion given in reply to an inquiry by those interested in getting the law altered.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
But my hon. Friend will look a long time before he will find a decision from the Bench in conformity with his interpretation of the law. The Act of 1690 adopted the Confession of Faith as the Civil Law of Scotland.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
It was upon this point Lord Rutherford expressed the doubt as to whether an article in the Confession of Faith became the law of the land.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
No Scotch lawyer will say that the children born of such marriages are legitimate. I do not wish to detain the House at great length; but I must refer to a remark of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who said that the reference of my hon. Friend (Mr. Bruce) to the decisions of the Church of Rome was no solid argument as tending to show the unanimity of opinion among Christian Churches.
§ *MR. HENEAGE
No; I said I was surprised that a member of the Church of England should quote the Church of Rome, where such marriages are allowed by the dispensation of the Pope.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
I will refer to the position of the Roman Church in another sense. I think the opponents of the Bill are entitled to say that 1790 the Christian Church is unanimous in its opposition to the change; and in this connection I think I am entitled to refer to the position of the Roman Catholic Church as going to make up the consensus of ecclesiastical authority. If it is said that the temptation to break the law of the Church in this matter is so strong, I would ask whether members of the Roman Catholic Church find the temptation too strong? Is not the prohibition of such marriages by that Church sufficient, in the enormous majority of cases, to deter its members from contracting them? I do not think that because the law of the Church of England sits more lightly upon its members that is an argument in favour of this change. If there is one institution which better illustrates the purity of the Christian faith than another it is the institution of marriage. A man by his marriage makes his wife's relations his own, and I venture to say we are not to be told that we are to interpret the Old Testament by Jewish lights. If we do so we shall have to reject the interpretation we now put on many passages which are the basis of our faith. Our interpretation of the Old Testament rests upon the spirit not upon the letter. On this our laws of marriage are based, and the relations between man and wife placed upon a higher footing, ennobling society and carrying Christianity into the most intimate relations of life. There may be some upon whom these considerations sit lightly, who desire more freedom, or, as I should say, more license; but not for these would I relax those old rules which have placed the institution of marriage on a high footing, and those restrictions which the Christian Church places upon men following their own inclinations. It is evident that the Christian Church has imposed an obligation which ought not to be lightly set aside; and I venture to say that if this Bill were passed it would be found that one of the principles of Christian marriage would be seriously weakened. Before I sit down I should like to draw attention to a contrast which the country is sure to notice, and that is in regard to the amount of attention paid to what is after all but a small question compared with one which touches the well-being of our social life. We were told last night 1791 that the time of the House would not permit the discussion of the licensing question. It is a remarkable fact that the whole of one day should be given up by the House to discussing this question, which is of infinitesimal importance as compared with licensing. Why should we be called upon to discuss the subject of marriage with a deceased wife's sister apart from the larger question of the sweeping away all the prohibited degrees of affinity? There are degrees of affinity less close than that of a deceased wife's sister, and yet it is not proposed to do away with the prohibition with regard to them. My last objection to this proposal is that it is an insult to and a slur upon the working men of this country to suppose that they cannot respect the restrictions of the law ecclesiastical which prevents them from marrying their deceased wives' sisters, and that a working man cannot live in the same house with his sister-in-law without abusing and seducing her. A greater insult was never cast upon the people.
§ *(4.5.) MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
It was brought to the knowledge of the late Lord Hatherley, who opposed this amendment of the law on the ground that there were so few cases of marriage with a deceased wife's sister among the lower classes, that in a very small area indeed there were 100 such cases. Those who oppose this measure appear to have forgotten the Report of a Royal Commission which sat in 1847, in which it was stated that there was considerable diversity of opinion on the question among the clergy of the Church of England, a great many of whom believed that such marriages are not prohibited by the law of God. If such a great diversity of opinion prevailed among the clergy of the Church of England in those days, what reason is there for supposing that a similar diversity of opinion does not prevail among them at the present time? Many clergymen advocate the change in the law proposed by this Bill in the interests of morality and of religion. It is a matter of public knowledge that a well-known clergyman in the South of London wishes the Bill carried, and that he holds that there is nothing in the disputed text from Leviticus, and nothing in the law of God, 1792 against these marriages. We are told that we are making an attack upon the purity, the integrity, and the liberty of married life; but do those who make that charge impute to our colonies, where such marriages are lawful, that their married life is less pure than it is in this country, or do they impute that Englishmen are more base in their morals than the Canadians are? Under our existing law scandal may arise when a man lives in the same house with a young and beautiful sister-in-law after his wife's death; whereas if the law is altered, as they will be at liberty to marry there will be no scandal at all in their living in the same house, because if they wish to do so they can get married. If I feel strongly about this matter it is because, as the law now stands, there is one law for the rich and another for the poor I know of one instance in which the High Sheriff of a county married his deceased wife's sister, who was received everywhere in society as his legitimate wife, and no one has ever dared to impeach the validity of their marriage or the legitimacy of their children. The children of poor people, however, under such circumstances would be branded as bastards. It is perfectly well-known that rich people set the law at defiance with the full approval of their friends; and there are instances of people who have sacrificed home and friends and have gone to other English-speaking countries where their position cannot be called in question; but still poorer people can neither enjoy immunity from censure nor avail themselves of the remedy of expatriation. The 1847 Commission found that there were in this country at least 500 of these marriages per annum; and as it is known that there are 1,000 a year in France, there is every reason to suppose there are now quite as many in this country. In Manchester, Liverpool, and other large towns it is found that these marriages are being constantly contracted among the poorer classes; and as to this, the Royal Commission of 1847 pointed out that with these people who are now 'held up to odium as law-breakers, the sense of religion was no less strong than with other people, and that their lives were in no degree marked by greater laxity of conduct. I think it is time that this stigmacast 1793 upon them by an odious law is removed.
§ *(4.22.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOB SCOTLAND (Mr. M. T. STORMONTH DARLING,) Edinburgh and St. Andrews Universities
I should like, in response to the challenge of the hon. and learned Member for Roxburghshire, to make a statement as to the present state of the law in Scotland. It does not depend upon a critical and precise reading of the text in Leviticus; but it depends upon a broad statement in the Confession of Faith ratified by an Act of Parliament. The doubts expressed by Lord Rutherford and Lord Praser were of the most hesitating kind, and they admitted that all the institutional writers on the law of Scotland, with one accord, pronounced against the validity of such marriages. If this view be not accepted it can be easily tested by an action to decide the validity of a marriage. From the first the law of Scotland has recognised these marriages as illegal. For my own part, I shall oppose the Bill because the present state of the law is logical and consistent, and the Bill would make it illogical and inconsistent.
§ *(4.26.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I should not have taken part in the Debate this afternoon if it had not been for the speech of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, which presents a very narrow view of the question before the House. I was very much surprised to hear a man of his experience make such a speech. He quoted the views of the Church Councils and ministers. I am not one of those who are accustomed to take their religious views from other people. I am not accustomed to look to the clergyman or to the minister for those views. I am accustomed rather to turn to the Bible as a guide in faith and morals, and I say that no man studying the Bible with an enlightened conscience for himself can find anything in it which prohibits these marriages. A great deal has been said on both sides on certain not very clear passages of Mosaic law without throwing any definite light. The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the case of the colonies, and suggested that we ought to be bound by the law of the Christian Church rather than that of a Legislature. But we make 1794 laws here for the observance of the State Church. It is not so many years ago that we laid down a new Litany for the Church of England and compelled clergymen to read those portions of Scripture we selected for them each Lords Day.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON
In the colony to which I referred there is no State Church at all, and clergymen are not compelled to perform these marriages.
§ *SIR J. PEASE
Very well. Let me just ask what is the law of the Colonies? The child of the marriage is legitimate, and that child inherits the colonial property in case of intestacy; but if the parents come over here the marriage is regarded as illegal, and the child as illegitimate, and does not inherit in case of intestacy. That is the position in which we place the people in our colonies and other distant parts of the Empire, there being one set of laws for the United Kingdom, and another for our Colonial Possessions. What is right and moral in the Colonies is neither right nor moral here. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that this is a rich man's question, and not a poor man's. He must have forgotten the fact that no fewer than 10,000 of the cabmen of this Metropolis signed a Petition that was sent to the House of Lords in favour of this Bill, they being a class of men who, by reason of their business, are necessarily a great deal away from their homes, and who feel that they have a real grievance, owing to the present state of the law. I might mention the case of a friend of my own, who has recently died. He went abroad and there married his deceased wife's sister; but according to the English law that marriage was not legal, and the child of that marriage is by law here a bastard to this day. The poor lady fell ill, and during her illness had only a very few friends who would visit her; while in another case I know of a person, who had contracted a similar marriage, went with the wife to whom he had been married abroad to the Communion Table of his parish church, and they were refused the Sacrament. Can it be said that these things are helps to religion and morality? It seems to me that they are entirely opposed to morality and religion. These are the arguments I have before used in support of the principle of this Bill; and it is because they 1795 appear to me to be deserving of serious consideration that I now put them to the House, in the hope that the House may be induced to assent to an alteration of the law, which I believe will be consistent with religion, justice, and morality.
§ *(4.35.) COLONEL MAKINS (Essex, S.W.)
It is perfectly clear that there is a great difference of opinion on this subject, and an utter absence of that general consensus of view which is essential for the carrying of a measure of this kind. The hon. Member for Camber well has made a most impassioned appeal to the House in the interests of those who have broken the law or who are tempted to break it; but I ask the House to consider whether a law is necessarily a bad law, either because there are some who break it or who desire to break it. When a question of this kind has been debated for 40 or 50 years it is difficult to say anything new about it. Many arguments have been used by hon. Gentlemen opposite in support of this measure; but I think that before the House is called upon to take up a question of such unlimited importance as a change in the Marriage Law of this country some very strong feeling ought to be manifested out of doors, some force that will drive the House into legislation, instead of its being brought up as a sort of hardy annual by any hon. Member, or set of Members, in this House. The condition of the House during the debate and the paucity of Petitions that have been presented for or against the measure are, I think, quite sufficient to show that there is no great feeling on this question outside the House, except perhaps on the part of those who either have broken or who contemplate the breaking of the law. Hitherto this question is one that has been studiously kept outside the range of Party politics, and I, for one, am anxious that that state of things should continue, but I may state that I have to-day received a circular from the Treasurer of a Society called The Marriage Law Reform Association, in which I am told if the Unionists do not support this measure the Unionist alliance will be in danger. This means that we are endangering the Unionist cause—and we are to put our consciences in our pockets. I 1796 do not think that that sort of pressure will have much effect on this House, and I believe that every hon. Member who may vote on this measure will vote according to his conscience without any regard to his political interests. I can quite understand those who look upon marriage simply in the light of a civil contract, not thinking it of much importance to maintain the present law; but to those who regard marriage as an interchange of life-long vows before the Almighty it is a matter of very great importance. I would suggest to those who are so anxious to bring the law into line with that prevailing in our colonies that they should begin at the other end. They should call on the Government to take up the whole question of the Marriage Laws, which at present is in a very complicated condition, especially, I may say, North of the Tweed. The matter should be carefully considered and legislated upon; and the first thing to be done should be to make performance of the civil rite obligatory and compulsory in every case of marriage, leaving each Church or religious body to solemnise the religious portion of the ceremony in accordance with its peculiar doctrines and tenets. That, I think, would be an intelligible starting point. The hon. Baronet the Member for Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) used the argument that this House has the power to alter the laws of the Church of England. If he means the laws affecting the property of the Church, I am with him, but if he means that this. House can alter the law relating to the sacred obligations and the duties of the clergy, I entirely disagree with him. For several years I have had on the Order Book of the House a Motion for an Address praying for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into these matters, and I think that would be the proper way of dealing with the question. The hon. Member for Camber well, in putting this question forward as a poor man's question, said Lord Hatherley had been told that within the limits of one parish as to which he had made inquiries there were as many as 100 cases that would be affected by this Bill. But Lord Hatherley's reply to that statement was that he only wanted to arrive at the truth, and he should be 1797 glad if he were furnished with the names and residences of those persons, but this information was not forthcoming. I think that a great deal more must be done in the way of bringing evidence before this House before it will feel disposed to make so great a change in the law as would be affected by this Bill. The alteration of the law in the way proposed would have the effect either of very much hastening Disestablishment, or of providing a crop of clerical martyrs such as sprang up under the Public Worship Regulation Act. Moreover, it must be remembered that women are much more interested in this matter than men, and I unhesitatingly state that the proposed change is unpopular with women. There has been no attempt on the part of women to promote this change, and we know that if they desired it they would not be behindhand in bringing their views before this House. I may state that I have never been asked the question at any election in reference to this matter, and although there are 16,000 voters in my constituency I have never received more than one letter on this subject from any one of those persons. Therefore, I think it idle to say there is a strong public feeling on this question; and, until there is such a feeling, I think the House will be very ill-advised in tampering with a law which is not only the law of this land, but has been the law of all Christendom from the earliest ages. Sir, I trust that we may reverse the verdict of former occasions, and I feel sure that, at any rate, until the Marriage Laws are taken up as a whole and dealt with in a statesmanlike manner, the feeling of the country will be that the law had better remain as it is.
§ *(4.45.) MR. J. A. BRIGHT (Birmingham, Central)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member who has just sat down said a much larger consensus of opinion was required before we could be called upon to repeal the law which now exists. This seems to me to be the wrong way of looking at the question, and that a consensus is necessary to maintain the law as it is at present, which is not supported by those who have no conscien- 1798 tious objections in this matter. The hon Member for Shropshire, who spoke earlier, said this law was founded on no principle, and it appeared to me that he might have applied that term to the opposition to the Bill. I cannot gather that there is any argument on the ground of Scripture. A certain extremely obscure text in Leviticus is referred to, and that is made the reason for supporting a law of this kind. But there is another text in Deuteronomy which is by no means obscure, and that is the text which enjoins that a man shall marry his deceased brother's widow. If we are to take one doubtful text as our rule, and throw to the winds another by no means obscure text, where is our consistency? I am reminded of the text as to the slavery of Onesimus, which commanded the belief of the southern slave-holder, who said that was the text for him, and that he considered all the rest of the Scriptures was purely figurative. Hon. Gentlemen have not gone back far enough. They go back to mediaeval times, when a great many artificial matters were introduced into Christianity. They do not go back to the time, for instance, when the book called the Doctrines of the twelve Apostles was written, which shows a very simple state of ritual and of worship in those days. But if we go back to Leviticus, I do not see why we should not go back to Genesis, where the second marriage spoken of was between a brother and his sister. The hon. Member for Manchester, in a remarkable speech, asserted that the decrees of the Church are binding on us. On whom? I do not consider that they are binding on me; and there is a large dissenting population who do not consider the decrees of the Church as in any way binding upon them. If hon. Gentlemen wish these marriages to remain illegal among members of the Church of England, by all means let them keep the law of the Church so and let them refrain from marrying their sisters-in-law, however attractive, but let them leave the poor dissenter to do as he thinks right. The hon. Member for the Oxford University said what a hardship it would be if one clergyman were allowed to perform the Marriage Service in the case of a man who wedded his deceased wife's 1799 sister in the church of a clergyman who was opposed to such marriages. It was rather a curious expression which the hon. Member used—"his church."
§ *MR. J. A. BRIGHT
It seemed to me that the hon. Member rather regarded the church as private property. But, in my opinion, a church is a State public building, and the minister is a State public officer; and if the law says that people have a right to be married in a certain way, certainly the clergyman who refuses to perforin the service because of conscientious objections, must allow someone else, who is not actuated by that feeling, to do it for him. The hon. Member for Shropshire spoke of marriage with a deceased husband's brother. There is no demand for such an alteration of the law; but I should be perfectly willing to agree to it, and I am unable to see that any argument has been brought against it. The hon. Member for Camberwell has said that this is distinctly a poor man's question, and it is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that poor men do not seek an alteration of the law; but a number of cases could be brought to prove this point. Well-to-do people who make these marriages can go abroad to have them solemnised, but in the case of a man occupying two rooms, whose wife dies, how can his deceased wife's sister live in that small space with him, to look after his children, with out incurring that risk of scandal against which only marriage can protect her, and he cannot go abroad to be married. Mr. Speaker, I think we have sufficient real sins, without trying to make artificial ones. I think that the text which has been alluded to will be considered, by people whose minds have not been sophisticated by ecclesiastical technicalities, as having no reference at all to the subject which we are discussing. There is another point — an important one. In the colonies we have freedom from this restraint. What is the position of a man who is married under this law in the colonies, if he desires to come and again visit the old country before he dies? 1800 Why, if he dies here, his children are not considered legitimate. That is a very unjust stigma to cast upon them. The fact is the situation is becoming more absurd year by year, and before long, I think, this law will be regarded as are the Test Acts, and the regulations which prevented the hon. Member for Northampton from taking his seat in this House. I feel very anxious indeed that this House should show that its interest in this question has not at all passed away, and that we shall have a larger majority in favour of it than has ever been given before.
§ *(4.47) MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
I would not have ventured to intervene in this debate if it had not been that the fact of dispensations being sometimes granted by the world-wide communion to which I have the honour to belong has been unduly emphasised. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the marriage between brother and sister, which was the original foundation of the Marriage Law, so far as the children of Adam and Eve were concerned, but the Christian Church does not say that such marriages are good. On the contrary, they have always been forbidden, though not against the primeval Divine law. But they depend upon a Divine sanction, just as the Sunday observance depends upon the original command to keep the seventh day of the week holy. If you come to later times, you have polygamy. But you cannot go to patri-archial times or to the Jewish dispensation. You must accept the Marriage Law solely on its merits as the social basis of the Christian dispensation and as the accepted law of Christian Governments. The hon. Member has referred to Papal dispensations. I defy him to point to any dispensations granted before the time of Pope Alexander Borgia. It is quite true the modern Church, for grave reasons, has granted such dispensations, but I have reason to believe they will be fewer in future because of the danger of this law being broken down. I do not oppose the Bill because it is contrary to Divine law in the absolute sense of the word, but because it is contrary to the sacred law, as it has been legitimally modified for us by the authority of the Church. The Christian 1801 idea of marriage makes the relation between a man and his wife's relatives the same as between him and his own relatives—exactly the same as if they were blood relations. That is the fundamental idea of the Christian religion, which has purified and elevated the human race in a degree unknown to heathen states. Being a Conservative and an Englishman, I think it would be a great detriment to the happiness and prosperity of our country if we were to break down our ancient tradition. As to the Church of England —which I desire to see maintain its position until the long-wished-for re-union between the Churches of Christendom takes place—1 trust it will always oppose the passing of this measure. The Church of England cannot and will not sanction this marriage, and to pass this Bill would be to offend the Church, to disorganise society, and to upset all ordinary views of right and wrong. I say to pass the Bill would be to interfere with and obscure the universally accepted ideas of right and wrong which affects the whole well-being of the country and our social customs. I think it would be most deplorable if the House were to lightly tamper with this matter. We are told that the colonies have accepted the principle of this measure, and that we ought to do likewise, in order to have one uniform system, but it seems to me a very modern and radical idea that we are to take our ideas of right and wrong from our children. I trust that the dispensation of the Church of Rome will not be quoted as an argument in favour of this Bill. The Church of Rome is the only institution in the world that is able to maintain the law, and at the same time give dispensations. We have a law in our Church which is occasionally dispensed with, but the law is rendered none the less effective by the possibility of breaking it down in exceptional cases; but in this country if you interfere with the law the principle at stake will altogether disappear.
§ (5.5.) The House divided:—Ayes 222; Noes 155.—(Div. List, No. 65.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday, 25th June.