Friday 14 December 2012

Register Office

St Cadog's Church, Llangadog

My father married hundreds of people. No, this is not a tale of wayward parenting and childhood woe - he had a Saturday job (in addition to his Monday to Friday one running a local authority) as a Superintendent Registrar which involved checking out couples' paperwork then marrying them at the Register Office (sic - it's not a "Registry Office").

He had some good stories including the occasion when a couple turned up without a witness: my dad suggested they pop out into the street and find a passer-by which they did and by chance it was the Mayor who sportingly came in and duly acted as a witness. Some time later it was discovered that the marriage was illegal because one of them was already married - cue small town embarrassment all round.

Perhaps it is memories of this that make me ponder the institution, especially in these times of debate about gay marriage. Personally I have no problems with gay marriage but I do have an unusual proposal which might assist the Prime Minister as he grapples with the antis. Why not just pull the state right out of marriage? There is very little legal meaning to marriage these days because the law quite rightly concentrates on the welfare of children and fairness between couples who separate whether or not there is a marriage.

Without state involvement churches or anybody else could "marry" people and give them any certificate they fancy - but none of it would have any state endorsement. What's to lose? Who wants or needs the state to validate their private decisions about who they want to live with and what ceremony or form of agreement they want to use? And there is a lot to gain - no need for Registrars, Register Offices and the state could give up all that pointless paperwork and concentrate on the issues of children's welfare and fairness on separation. And of course there would be no role for the state in considering who can and can't marry - that sounds right.

Just an idea.


I got married in church for reasons of form and tradition rather than faith, something which involved some economy with the truth when the future Mrs Blog and I were quizzed over tea and rich tea biscuits by a Trollopean Rural Dean who probably didn't believe our protestations of religious fervour (he'd never seen us before) but couldn't do much about it.

Of course English heterosexual sweethearts can force their Established Church parson to marry them even if they are paid-up Jedi Knights - the seventh most popular religion in the UK according to the 2011 census although worryingly at 176,000 adherents it has halved in 10 years. O tempora o mores!