VISCOUNT HALIFAX rose to move the Second Reading of the Divorce Amendment Bill. He said the Bill did not in any way affect the facilities for divorce which at present exist. It left the law as to divorce untouched. Its object was to release the clergy and their parishioners from one particular obligation imposed by the Act in regard to persons who have been divorced for adultery, which they felt to be an outrage to their conscience; to relieve the whole Church of England from an occasion of great scandal, and the law itself from the imputation of sanctioning what any one who seriously considered the question must feel to be a very great profanation of the sanctities of religion. Up to 1857, when the Divorce Act was passed, dissolution of marriage between persons who had contracted a valid marriage was unknown to the general law, the State in this matter endorsing the Church's law. It was possible to obtain from the Courts which then had cognizance of such subjects, a decree which involved a judicial separation. It was possible to declare during the lifetime of the parties, a marriage null which had, in fact, never been a marriage at all in the eye of the law, but so far as the law was concerned a divorce in the ordinary sense of the word, with power to contract a fresh marriage, was impossible. The only way in which a valid marriage could be legally dissolved up to 1857 was by a private Act of Parliament, which overrode in that particular case the general law, and was assumed also to override the law of the Church. Now, whatever one might think about divorce, no one could justify such a state of things as that. If the then marriage law was a good one it was outrageous that it should be liable to be set on one side by private legislation; if it was bad such legislation was not a sufficient remedy. Moreover, private Acts of Parliament were expensive processes, and it was intolerable that what was open to the rich should be denied to the poor.
No one could wish such a state of things to continue. But whether the remedy adopted was the right one was another question. He did not disguise from their lordships that in his opinion the right remedy was not taken. He thought it would have been much better to leave the law as it was and refuse all facilities for such private Acts of Parliament. In the interests of the happiness of the greatest number there could be no doubt, even putting all religious considerations on one side, that it was much better marriage should be treated as indissoluble. It might seem hard in some cases, but life very often was hard, and experience had conclusively shown that facilities for divorce, far from diminishing the number of unhappy marriages, had largely increased them. This, however, touched upon a point outside the purposes of the Bill. What he had to point out was that when the Divorce Act was passed, and it was made legal to dissolve a valid marriage for certain specified reasons, it was felt there was so much to be said against the proposed change, that a provision was inserted in the Bill by which no person whose previous marriage had been dissolved for adultery should be entitled to claim the blessing of the Church from the incumbent of the parish upon a subsequent union. If the Divorce Act had not qualified this provision there would have been no occasion for the present Bill; but, unfortunately, the Divorce Act grafted an exception upon it. It provided, by Clause 58—and this was the clause he was asking their lordships to repeal—that, although the incumbent of the parish might refuse to give the blessing of the Church to a parishioner whose violation of the Seventh Commandment alone made another marriage possible, such parishioner, if he or she could pick up any stray clergyman who was willing to undertake the office, might intrude the stranger, against the will of the incumbent and against the will of the parishioners, into the church for the purpose of giving God's blessing to a marriage which was certainly not entitled to it. In no other case was any clergyman allowed, against the will of the incumbent, to intrude into his parish or minister in his church. The one exception was the exception conferred by this clause, and that for
the sake of gratifying a person who had been publicly convicted af breaking the Seventh Commandment, who had broken the most solemn vows and obligations taken before the Church, and had thus been proved to be perjured both to God and man. Could any one say such persons were entitled to indulgence? They could go to the registrar's office and obtain a marriage, legal for all purposes. Let them be content with that. But it was not only the clergy who were aggrieved in this matter; it was the body of the parishioners. Look at the case of a devout congregation attached to the church. The members of it had been doing their best to lead Christian lives, and to encourage in all around them virtue and morality. A scandal occurred in the parish, a case, it might be—as such cases generally were—of deliberate sin and heartless selfishness, and yet they were forced to see the guilty perpetrators of the scandal treated just in the same way as the guiltless, and married with all the paraphernalia and with the same prayers and the same blessings as the most innocent and virtuous. It was not merely the clergy, but the parishioners, who had a right to claim redress from such a state of affairs. But there were even higher interests involved than those of the clergy and the parishioners. Had the Church of England no rights? Did she possess no conscience? Was it tolerable that she should be asked to sanction the union and to bless the marriage of persons who had violated their most solemn obligations? Was she to connive not only at the infraction of the Seventh but of the Third Commandment as well? Was it tolerable that a service should be forced on the Church which the Bishop of the diocese in a recent case had declared no power on earth would have compelled him to perform? It was true the Church of England met with scant justice in these days. They were being told that it was for her advantage that it was proposed to deprive her of the means with which her own members had endowed her for spiritual purposes. Should they be told that the maintenance of this injustice was also for the advantage of the Church of England? Was it an advantage to the Church of England that this injustice should remain? It was not only in the interests of the
Church that he pleaded; he spoke also in the interests of the State. It was not the Church only which was concerned to keep up the standard of morality. Could the State allow, with impunity, the most solemn obligation to be treated as of no account? They were told that perjury was largely on the increase. It was not denied that perjury and collusion tainted, to a frightful and increasing extent, the proceedings of the Divorce Court. Could they imagine any way more calculated to make men think lightly of such offences than to insist upon the Church giving her blessing to persons who had been guilty of them? Was there ever a time when society could less afford to play fast and loose with such matters? Consider the literature that abounded at the present time—the plays which were acted, the revelations of the Courts of Justice, the trials, the reports of which, to their infinite disgrace, were hawked about the streets—and say whether on every side there was not abundant reason for protesting by every means in their power against the evil current which was displaying itself so strongly at the present time? It was true the measure he was proposing was a small one. It might be said also that it was not a complete solution of the difficulties with which it professed to deal; that it did not sufficiently protect the conscientious convictions of the clergy and laity of the Church of England: he did not deny that there was some truth in these objections, but he had been anxious not to encumber the Bill with contentious matter. It did remedy one very conspicuous grievance, and unless those who brought forward these objections were prepared to bring in a wider Bill to give effect to their views, he did not think he need concern himself with objections which were merely brought forward as excuses for doing nothing. One thing he warned those who might be opposed to the Bill not to say—namely, that Parliament having agreed to put such a clause on the Statute Book, the clergy and laity of the Church of England had nothing to do but to acquiesce in it. When it was shown that the very moderate reform he was asking for was to be definitely refused, that question would have to be raised, and when that happened it would, perhaps, be answered in a way those
who might have urged it as a reason for not supporting this present Bill would have cause to regret. Meanwhile he refused to discuss it. He did not believe the reform he was asking for would be refused. It was moderate, it was reasonable; it had, he believed, the unanimous support of all the episcopate; it had the approval of the clergy; a resolution in favour of it had been passed by a unanimous vote of the Lay House of the Convocation of Canterbury; and the interest it was exciting in the country was witnessed to by the great number of Petitions in favour of it which had been sent up in a very short time from all parts of the country. Petitions had been sent from 440 different places, to which were attached 23,000 or 24,000 signatures. More than this, it had the support of large masses of persons outside the Church of England; and he thought he could not do better than conclude by reading a letter he had received from the Rev. H. Price Hughes, one of the most leading and distinguished representatives of Nonconformist opinion, who wrote to him as follows:—
I am very thankful that you have introduced a Bill which will deprive guilty divorced persons of the monstrous legal right which they now have to force themselves into a Christian church even when they have given no sign whatever of repentance. Your Bill does not deprive them of their civil right to re-marriage, and such offenders are surely not entitled to demand more than that from the compulsory law of the land. I should think that every devout Nonconformist who understands the strictly limited nature of your proposal will agree with your Lordship.
He earnestly trusted that their Lordships would read the Bill a second time.
* THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I think I ought at once to say how very earnestly I support the Motion of the noble Lord, and trust that this Bill may receive a Second Reading. The noble Lord has gone through a series of points which are weighty, some more than others, but all have justice in them. I should like to confine myself to one point which has not, perhaps, been brought out quite enough. I think it is my business to speak for those who have been so utterly unconsidered in the Act. I wish to say something on behalf of the rights and feelings of the parishioners. The Bill touches only the case of the guilty person in a divorce, and I shall 436 confine my remarks entirely to the case of the guilty person. It can be said of the law as it exists now that it does fairly and rightly consider the feelings and views of the clergy in the matter. The law as it stands leaves the clergyman quite free to decline to celebrate what he considers to be an infamous marriage, but the law as it stands pays no attention whatever to the feelings and views of the parish and congregation. The parish or congregation are totally ignored in the matter, and their church is actually placed by law at the disposal of a very guilty person for a very sacred purpose. My Lords, I ask, is it a matter of indifference to the parishioners where such a marriage is celebrated, in their parish church or in a town-hall? I do not believe there ever was a time when the churches were so much to the people as they are now. The building, the restoration, and the adornment of churches during the last 50 years and more are sufficient proof of that. I believe that 20 millions of money have been spent in less than half a century in the building, restoration, and adornment of the churches. In fact, the churches have never been so cared for, and have never been so decorated by the parishioners as they have been during the past few years. Great regard and love is shown by congregations for their places of worship. And what do the people think of this particular matter? I am sure, from the utterances one hears, from Nonconformists as well as from church people, that a very large majority of worshippers—who are the people most concerned in this matter—most strongly object to the marriage of a guilty divorcee being celebrated in their church. It is said that every parishioner has a right to the use of his parish church. That is true. But what does it mean? It means a right which can be claimed by the parishioner only for certain Christian purposes, such as for worship and for the ceremonies which scanctify his home—for his marriage, for the baptism of his children, and for the burial of his dead. The right of the parishioner to the use of the church does not extend beyond that. Again, the law recognises in the plainest and strongest manner the difference between parishioners and a bad parishioner. It recognises that difference in the administration of sacred offices. 437 A man convicted of notorious sin, though still a parishioner, has no right to present himself for Holy Communion. If he has the indecency to do so, the law protects the clergyman in his refusal to administer the Communion to such a man. Again, there are particular persons over whom the rites of the Church of England cannot be used when they are laid in the grave. And this very Act of 1857 recognises entirely and markedly the difference between the innocent divorcee and the guilty divorcee, because the innocent may claim the office of the parson in the celebration of marriage but the guilty may not. But now while the guilty divorcee has no claim on the parson he has a claim on the church. He has no claim on the office of the man, but he has a claim to the use of the church in which that office is to be performed. Well, my Lords, a man may have a right by law, but there is such a thing as decency in the use of rights. And if a man lacks decency in the use of right, the church is not to be called upon to follow suit with him. The parishioner has a right to use the church, but he has only a religious right to make a religious use of it. And yet, under the law as it stands, a man, bearing the stigma of a Court of Justice, is entitled to claim the use of the Church for that very ceremony which he has outraged. From the court to the church; driven out of one place as a disgraced adulterer, he enters the other as a bridegroom, amid the sound of bells and with everything the church can do to celebrate his marriage as a holy rite, and it may be with his paramour, and it may be on a sacred day like Easter morning. This, my Lords, may be said to be a strong way of putting the matter; but we must look at strong cases if we want to test any law. I say that is not a religious use to which to put the church, that it is flying in the face of all religious feeling. The parishioners have the same right to say to the guilty divorcee—"That is not what our church is for"—as the parson has to say to him if he wants him to celebrate the marriage ceremony—"That is not what I am for." It must be remembered, my Lords, that if a man who stands in the position of a guilty divorcee desires to be married, the law provides him—properly enough, for it could not do otherwise—with a legal mode of marrying. 438 He can be married by civil marriage and lose nothing in the eyes of the law. But if he wants to gratify a religious sentiment in the celebration of his marriage, he must not murder other people's religious sentiments in order to gratify it But it is a contradiction in terms to speak of religious sentiments and religious impulses in the case of a man who desire to make vows which he has flagrantly violated before. Then again, how are the parishioners to express their rights. In many things the voice of the clergyman is the voice of the parishioners; in many things the parishioners have no other voice than the voice of their parson. He is called parson because he is the "persona," the representative of the parishioners; and yet he cannot refuse on their behalf the use of the church to one whom they feel to be a disgrace to them and their parish. It may be argued against the Bill that it is unfair in one respect because it refuses to the guilty divorcee what it does not refuse to a person who may be as guilty or more guilty—I mean the co-respondent. That is a good argument for including the co-respondent in the Bill, and if this were moved, I suppose the noble Lord in charge of the Bill would accept it; but it is no argument for excluding the guilty divorcee.
§ * LORD GRIMTHORPE
said, that taking the Bill in the abstract, he would have approved of it had it been brought in under other circumstances. But unfortunately it had been brought in, not by the bishops after consultation as to how far the existing law ought to be altered, but it had been brought in by the head of the English Church Union, a body which had been active recently in getting up a riot in a church which was led, not by any person belonging to the church, but by a curate if a distant church, who took upon himself to try to stop a particular marriage by violence. The action of that curate was so indefensible that even members of the Church Union had written to express their disapproval of it. That body had now got its president to introduce a Bill in reference to those marriages, and the noble Lord had done so in a very mild speech; but it was notorious that that body was opposed to the marriage of the innocent divorcee as well as to the marriage of the guilty divorcee—a proposition which 439 it was impossible to support. If anybody had moved for a Committee to consider the question generally, and as to how far the existing law might be modified, he would have nothing to say against the proposal. He would use as strong language in reference to the guilty divorcee as had been used by the rev. Prelate who had just spoken, and by the Bishop of London in Convocation the other day. But he would like to point out that there was one little difficulty in the way of a suggestion which had been made by the Bishop of London on that occasion. The rev. Prelate had said it was true that the objection against the innocent divorcee could not be maintained; but that the objection against the guilty divorcee could be maintained and ought to be maintained, while the offence was fresh and while he had given no sign of repentance. But to whom was the guilty divorcee to give the sign of repentance? To the clergyman asked to marry him, he presumed. Then the clergyman was to take upon himself to say and certify to the parishioners and the public when a guilty divorcee had sufficiently repented to be allowed to be married in church. Did their Lordships not see that that made the clergy masters of the position as regards the administration of the rites of the church? And why after that particular sin more than any other? Were the parishioners likely to allow the clergyman to say—Oh no! You have done such and such things, such and such things; so report, truly or falsely, says. I won't admit you to Communion or to any other Church privileges?That was the inevitable result of allowing these privileges to be refused or given at the discretion of any individual, even up to bishops. Most people on that side who had written on this matter had carefully put in the words—though this Bill did not—"until the partner of his guilt is dead." So, according to them, there were two things that ought equally to justify the permission of an adulterer to be married in Church—one was repentance, to be judged of by some clergyman, and the other was the getting rid of the adulterous wife by death. In his opinion this was a Bill to put the parishioners at the mercy of the clergyman. If a 440 man went to a parish where Clergyman A was supreme he could not get married; but if he went to a parish where Clergyman B was in charge he might get married immediately. What, moreover, about the rights of the parishioners, which the most rev. Prelate insisted on? Where did the power come in to exercise their rights under this Bill? This was a Clergy Supremacy Bill as it was a Bill to allow the clergy of the Church of England to determine whether a guilty divorcee ought to be married or not. The noble Viscount very naturally and cleverly said this had nothing to do with the innocent divorcee. But where did this proposal come from? It came from that set and nest of people who had been raging for the last six months at least against marriage of innocent divorcees. There had been a great deal of correspondence in The Guardian and other papers, and one clergyman stated that he had consulted his Bishop as to whether he ought to try to resist the intrusion of another clergyman into his church. The Bishop very truly replied that "the Church is not yours." These people talked about the law of the Church. What was the law of the Church about marriage? No less a man than Lord Hardwicke said there were some ecclesiastical things with which the canons had no power to deal at all, such as the prohibitions of marriage. The people who had been writing and talking about this thing asserted that divorcees of any kind ought not to be married at all, and they quoted the 107th canon, which had nothing in it about divorcees whose marriage has been "dissolved," but only those who have been "judicially separated," as it is now called, and who never could lawfully marry again, but might come together again whenever they liked. That had been pointed out over and over again, but they went on asserting that the law of the Church of England is what they want it to be, but know perfectly well that it is not, and disregard all the challenges to them to prove their assertion. And then they come here with this defective and illogical Bill, which does either too much or too little, and leaves just the same capricious power of refusing the privileges of the Church as the Act of 1857, without regard to any general law.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I venture to interpose merely as a layman, because I want to express a hope that the policy of my noble and learned Friend in traversing the whole episcopal array and attacking them en bloc will not call upon them those Parliamentary anathema which would be adapted to the circumstances. I would point out that his speech is the strongest argument for the Bill that could be made, because there is no one in this House whose practised and trained intellect is so generally recognised as that of my noble and learned Friend, and we may be perfectly certain that everything that can be said about the Bill will find a place in his speech; but when he addressed himself to the task he could find practically nothing to say against the Bill, and he wandered into all germane and non-germane circumstances which he could think of in reference to it. He called up all the stores of learning which he has derived from the study of the Church newspapers for the last six months; he denounced the episcopal logic and the performances of one Janus—he did not mention which—in particular. He led us into all the misdeeds of the English Church Union, and he laid down a principle, which would be rather formidable if applied to general legislation, that we should not pass a Bill if the person who proposed it had done anything foolish with regard to any other matter. I demur to the general tone and scope of my learned Friend's argument, though I entirely admit if he was making a speech against the Bill he could not well have done it in any other way. I admit, for argument's sake, that the English Church Union is the most pernicious body in the world. I am content to admit all my noble and learned Friend can say against the episcopal logic. I will listen without flinching to the castigations which fall upon the episcopal shoulder; but, when all this is said and done, if the Bill is a good one, we shall have to pass it all the same. We have merely to consider whether the Bill is in the interest of the Church of England and in the interest of the country. I admit at once I do not particularly like the machinery of the Bill. I should prefer that the discretion was left to some one else than the clergyman of the parish. I think the Bishop is the proper person 442 to determine whether the Church shall be used or not, because I cannot admit the doctrine that the Church is so entirely the property of the clergyman that he is the person who has the most right to decide; but that is a matter we may well relegate to Committee. The question is that a great scandal should be removed, and we must not, in this matter chop logic too closely. It is a question whether we will remove a scandal which is very extensively felt, which has been largely and widely denounced, and which is denounced, not by persons in one theological quarter, it is not the opinion of any one special school of theology, but it is denounced by persons who feel that the present state of the law has this operation—that it declares to all the world that the Church condones the sin of adultery. You cannot imagine a more serious scandal in the relations of the law to the Church than such a state of things as this. I do not believe that it was consciously put into the Act of 1857. What was before the legislators of that date was that there were undoubtedly a large number of clergy who objected to the re-marriage of divorcees, whether innocent or guilty, and the opinion of Parliament of that day was heavily in favour of permitting the marriage of divorcees. It was thought that it would be a serious scandal if the clergy could have expressed their views by shutting out of their churches innocent divorcees who might wish to be married. But now that attention has been drawn to the question, there is such an obvious consensus of opinion among those who feel deeply on such matters from a moral point of view, without distinction of theological opinion, that we should do unwisely if we allowed such an evil to go on without a remedy. Do not say that it gives undue power to the clergy. Already the clergy have the power of branding the conduct of a divorcee who wishes to be re-married, but they can refuse to take part in the marriage. That is the strongest condemnation which the clergyman can put upon the conduct of the divorcee. The mere exclusion of the divorcee from the Church does not add very deeply to that condemnation; but it prevents what is a scandal not only in the eyes of the clergyman, but in those of all the 443 parishioners, and it prevents doubt from being thrown on the moral teaching of the Church. Therefore, without pledging myself to the precise words of the clause, and claiming to be allowed entirely to disengage it politically from all questions of the action of the English Church Union, and intellectually from all questions of episcopal logic, I shall vote for the Second Reading.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HERSCHELL)
It would be impossible for any of your Lordships riot to feel much sympathy with the general object of the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill. There can be no doubt that there are many people who object to such marriages taking place in a church. But I would remind your Lordships that there is a principle involved to which the noble Marquess has alluded. He is content to treat it as a detail of the Bill, and under those circumstances I will also treat it as a detail; but it seems to me to be of very great importance. I would remind the House of what took place when the Divorce Act was passed. There were many persons who thought that a clergyman of the Established Church ought not to be permitted at his will to refuse to solemnise any marriage to which there was no legal impediment. There was much discussion in the House of Commons, and ultimately a provision was inserted for the purpose of relieving the difficulty. Clergymen were enabled to refuse to solemnise these marriages, but, by way of compromise, the Government of the day proposed a provision which would secure to the parishioners their legal right to be married in their parish church in all cases where there was no legal impediment. The clause, which it was now proposed to repeal, as ultimately drawn was carried in the House of Commons by a majority of more than two to one. If this Bill proposed that no such marriages as this should be permitted in a church, it would free the question from a difficulty which weighs upon my mind. But the present Bill does not prohibit such marriages. It leaves the decision as to whether they shall be solemnised or not entirely to the clergyman who is the incumbent of the parish. That is a very grave difficulty. I am not disposed personally to regard the clergyman as in 444 all cases the representative of the parishioners, or to treat his voice as necessarily being the voice of the parishioners. Very often I believe it to be the very contrary; and to take the view of the clergyman as being necessarily that of the parishioners would be absolutely unfounded in point of fact. But the proposition in the Bill is that it shall rest with the views of the clergyman in the particular parish whether the divorced person shall be married there or not. In many cases, the most rev. Prelate said, it would be a scandalising thing to the parishioners that the marriage should take place in the church. But the clergyman can so scandalise them if he wishes; and they will be dumb and will have no voice. And it is assumed that there are clergymen who will permit the use of their churches; because divorced people cannot be married in a church at all unless some clergyman will marry them. The measure is founded on this—that the rights of the parishioners in this respect are entirely dependent on the will of the clergyman, as if he were supreme, and as if the use of the church were entirely at his disposal. That is my great difficulty. But the noble Marquess suggests that it should not be left to the individual clergyman, but to the Bishop. About that there might be a great deal of difficulty. If it is right at all, it would be much more logical and sound to prohibit these marriages altogether; and that should be done as part of the law of the land, and should not be left to clergymen to voice as what they, from time to time, choose to think are the views of the laity. I know that my noble and learned Friend has made some strong observations, but it does involve an important principle. As the noble Marquess calls it a detail, I am prepared not to divide against the Bill at the present stage. But I cannot see, after the speech of the noble Viscount, how the matter can stop as it is. A clergyman will next come forward and say that it is just as revolting to him to marry a person who has been divorced at all—the former spouse still living—as it is to marry a guilty divorcee. If the same appeal is made on the same sort of grounds, there will be great difficulty in logically denying it. I am not hostile to the spirit and intention of 445 a measure of this sort, and I do not think there would be the same grave objections to a measure such as I have indicated as there are to this measure. As to the matter being of so much moment, it is rather strange that, if there be this very strong feeling, and if the question be so vital to the morality of this country, the law should have been left as it stands for 30 years. We hear that people are scandalized. The fact is that these marriages have taken place before, and people have not heard of them. I do not say that it is a reason for rejecting the Bill, but I should have been more satisfied if the Bill had a better origin than it has—being brought forward as the immediate result of a particular action taken by a clergyman and other people for the purpose of disturbing a particular marriage. If there had been this terrible grievance and scandal, the noble Viscount might have called the attention of the House to it some time before this during the last 30 years. My difficulty is that you leave the law as it is, and put the laity at the mercy of the clergy.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
said that no one would contend that this was a complete and logical Bill; but it distinctly removed one grievance which was very much felt. When it was asked why this state of things had been borne with so long, the answer was that there had been a continuously growing feeling year after year, and the particular marriage to which allusion had been made had brought that feeling very much to a head. But that particular instance did not represent the wide extent to which the feeling had now grown. Both clergy and laity had more and more come to feel that this was a very grievous scandal. The Bill removed the grievance, and he hoped that the House would pass it, arid if it were desired to extend the provisions of the measure and to make them more drastic, by all means let it be done.
§ * EARL COWPER
said that this was a subject which presented very great difficulties. It was a small matter in itself, as had been admitted, but a great principle was at stake. In 1857, after a long discussion in both Houses, it was decided that in the interests of morality it would be fair and right to allow divorced persons, even guilty persons, to 446 marry again, for it was felt that to forbid these marriages or to throw obstacles in the way of them would be very detrimental to morality. It would be to force young people to lead a life of celibacy, and this in many instances meant to force them to lead a life of sin. Now, it was clearly for the interests of morality that those marriages should be allowed. He found it difficult to think that what was not in the interests of morality was in the interests of religion, that morality could pull in one direction and religion in another. It was not for him to argue the matter from the scriptural point of view, but many Protestant divines, certainly from the time of the Reformation until now, had held that it was lawful for divorced people to marry again. It was notorious that it was one single case which had brought this subject to a head; but it would be very unfair for their Lordships to base their opinion on a single case. He did not think that in general, except in the one case of a guilty woman marrying her paramour, those marriages happened immediately after divorce, but some time afterwards. Was a man who had been in the Divorce Court, even as a guilty party, to be for ever prohibited from receiving the sanction of religion to his marriage? Their Lordships knew that it was not always very easy to draw the line between the guilty and the innocent person. An unhappy marriage resulted from faults on both sides, and the person who might not be technically the guilty person might yet be as much to blame as the other person. Years might have gone by since an unhappy marriage was dissolved, and they had to remember that there were two parties to this second marriage under consideration. There might be the woman to consider as well as the divorced man. It would be absurd to deny that there were many cases of happy marriages in which the man might not have been altogether immaculate before his marriage. There were many cases in which a man had led a very immoral life and who might have been reclaimed by being married to a pure, high-minded virtuous woman, and whose married life might be as happy to the wife and as good and useful to society as any that might be found. It was said that it was hard on a clergyman to be compelled to marry a man 447 whom he knew to be guilty of great sin. But a man without having been in the Divorce Court might have been leading a scandalous life up to the moment he came to the altar, and the clergyman must marry that man, though he might know all the wickedness he had committed. He could not help it; it was the law of the land. If their Lordships considered too much the conscience of the clergyman they would get into great difficulty. It was much more simple to consider that the clergyman was bound to marry every person who presented himself or herself before him unless there was a legal impediment. This, he thought, ought to be the rule; but he also thought that Parliament acted wisely 30 years ago when it decided that if an individual clergyman happened to hold views that it was against his conscience and wrong for him to marry divorced people then he might refuse to do so. But it would be to consult his feelings too far to say not only that the clergyman need not perform the service, but that what he was pleased to call his church should not be the scene where such a marriage was to be performed. It was a mistake to consider the Church as the clergyman's church; it was really the church of the parish. If they were to consider the feelings of the parishioners, then what would be the position of the unhappy parishioners who held strong views on the subject if they found that the clergyman belonging to the minority had no objection to perform those marriages? The parishioners would not only have to undergo the sight of their fellow-parishioners being married in the church, but they would see all the people from other parishes, the clergymen of which refused to marry them, flocking to this particular parish and causing more injury to their feelings than if they were only subjected to the unlikely and occasional chance of one of their fellow-parishioners who had been divorced going through the ceremony. If it were right and fair that people who might have repented, should not be driven into the registration office, but should be allowed to have the sanction of the ceremonies of religion, surely it was not right that these people should be driven out of particular churches and particular parishes entirely at the option of the clergyman or even at the option of the Bishop, 448 which, he thought, would be on the whole far worse. If it depended on Bishops, they would have whole dioceses shut up and excluded, which would be worse than the closing of single churches. Moreover, it would be hard on those clergymen still willing to perform the ceremony in their churches to have people driven from other parishes to them, to be obliged to refuse the ceremony to these people altogether, or to allow them to come to have a ceremony performed in a place with which they had nothing to do. Such a clergyman would be put in a difficult and disagreeable position—not only with regard to his Bishop, but with regard to his parishioners; and if every clergyman refused to receive those people from the outside, then they would not be religiously married at all.
§ Bill read 2a.