§ The House resolved itself into a committee on this bill. On the clause for giving to parents and guardians a certain period after the marriages of minors without consent to institute suits for annulling such marriages,
The Archbishop of Canterbury
said, that every means that could be devised by human ingenuity, ought to be resorted to for the purpose of preventing improper marriages, but that when those marriages had been celebrated under the solemn sanction of religion, they ought to be indissoluble; nor could he conceive any thing more repugnant to religion or morality that persons should be placed 1144 in the situation of not knowing whether they were lawfully married, or living in a state of concubinage—that a mother should be placed in the situation of not knowing whether her children were to be considered as ornaments or a disgrace to her.
The Archbishop of York
expressed his entire concurrence in the opinion delivered by his most reverend brother, and observed that the principle of legislation ought to be—"Those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder."
The Earl of Liverpool
maintained that the sound principle of legislation was to throw every obstacle in the way of improper marriages; but when they had been solemnized, they ought to be indissoluble.
The clause was negatived. On the retrospective clause being read, the lord chancellor moved, that the further consideration of it be postponed. Upon this, the committee divided: Contents 40 Not-contents 69. The clause being read,
re-urged the grounds on which he called upon the committee to prevent any further evil arising from the nullifying of marriages for want of consents, or defect of form, under the operation of the marriage act, and stated his intention of moving to extend the operation of the clause to the rendering valid all marriages which had taken place since 1754, the date of the marriage act, with the exception of those which had been declared null, and of those in which the parties aware of the nullity of the first marriage, had contracted a second marriage; and also with a proviso, that dignities, honours, and property, whether they had descended to the children, of any such marriage, or, in consequence of its acknowledged nullity, to the heir at law, should remain in the possession of those persons to whom they had descended and their descendants, with some other amendments.
§ Upon the amendments of lord Ellen-borough a short discussion took place, in the course of which
The Earl of Liverpool
said, it was his intention to introduce a clause to prevent this act from extending to any causes now pending, or to be instituted before a competent tribunal within the next twelve months.
was of opinion, that the operation of the whole measure now before their lordships would be destroyed if the noble earl's proposals were agreed to. 1145 Difficulties and embarrassments might certainly attend the discussion of this subject; but their lordships should beware of the ill effects of stopping in their course. They were bound to make atonement for the punishment inflicted by the marriage act, and reparation should be made without delay, without letting the technicalities of courts intercept their progress. There were, no doubt, persons who would have advised that the marriages contracted before 1660 should not be confirmed; but good policy prevailed, and they were confirmed. Even a few years ago a bill was introduced to relieve the clergy from the penalties of non-residence. "Ignorantia legis non excusat," was a maxim strictly applied to the girl of fifteen, while in persons of a learned profession, who should be presumed to know their duty, ignorance was excused. Was a young lady, just entering the church door with an admiring lover, to ask about the contract of his grandmother? Such a lady so doing might have a very inquiring mind; but if the lover were as modest as he might be ardent, he would at once leave her, and make his bow. The strict rules of justice, called for the adoption of the clauses proposed by the noble lord. Where a fair consent was given to parties inter-marrying, and where religion ratified that marriage, an ignorance of facts, or technicality, should not prevail. Virtue and generosity demanded the repeal of the act of 1754.
The several clauses proposed by lord Ellenborough were then passed. After which, the earl of Liverpool proposed the clause to which he had before alluded. The earl of Harrowby proposed; as an amendment, to omit the words, "during the next twelve months;" as it would only have the effect of instituting suits at present not thought of. This amendment was agreed to; and upon the clause, as amended, the House divided: For the clause, 42; Against it, 58. The chairman then reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.