Chapter 16

Quaker marriage procedure

The meaning of marriage

16.01

For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses.

George Fox, 1669

16.02

At the beginning of the 21st century marriage has become a contract between individuals and is no longer seen as the way in which communities renew themselves through the creation of new life and new energy for life. In contrast we need to have faith that the synergy created within marriage will flow out into the world and that in God we have the power to make right relationships.

Roger and Susan Sawtell, 2006

16.03

Marriage has a special status in Quaker practice. From the very beginning – for longer even than membership – Friends have regarded marriage as a state so momentous that it requires an explicit, solemn enactment in a meeting for worship. Friends understand marriage to be equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Friends recognise marriage to be something quite distinct from simple cohabitation, no matter how loving. It is first and foremost a spiritual union, not merely an emotional or physical or legal one, although each of these aspects has its importance. Crucially, marriage involves an unconditional and express commitment, not only to one another, but equally of the couple reciprocally to the meeting, to the community, to society, and to God: the commitment to be a couple and to stay a couple. It is a commitment so profound that it must be made in public, witnessed in meeting, and recognised by the law of the land. Those who make it must fully intend the commitment to be lifelong; marriage is not a state that should be entered into or departed from lightly.

16.04

Thomas Ellwood, recalling his own marriage in 1669, wrote of the value of the meeting for worship: ‘We sensibly felt the Lord with us and joining us, the sense whereof remained with us all our lifetime, and was of good service and very comfortable to us on all occasions.’

The basis of a Friends’ marriage remains the same as in the early days of the Society. The simple Quaker wedding where the couple, together with their friends, gather in worship is for Friends the most natural setting for the two concerned to make a commitment to each other in the presence of God. With their declaration they take each other freely and equally as lifelong partners, committing themselves to joining their lives together in loving companionship, asking God’s blessing on their union. Friends have always seen both members of a marriage as ‘equal comrades’ (23.38). With God’s help their love for each other can deepen and change in a lifetime of marriage together.

As a number of those attending the wedding may be unfamiliar with worship based on silence, it is particularly important that there should be a good attendance of Friends who come concerned for the spiritual depth of the occasion. A meeting for worship for the solemnisation of a marriage is held in the same form and spirit as a Friends’ meeting for worship at other times. It is an occasion when those joining in marriage may gain inspiration and help from the meeting, which may continue to be a source of strength to them during their married life. It is also an opportunity for all those who attend the meeting for worship to ask God’s blessing on the marriage and to support the couple in their prayers.

16.05

Early Friends realised the importance of recording marriages which had taken place in a meeting for worship and increasingly recognised their responsibility for reporting such marriages to the authorities. They fervently maintained, however, that marriage was a solemn contract made in the presence of God in the meeting for worship. From the very early days of the Society stress was laid on the need for serious consideration prior to marriage, the clearness of each person from all other engagements, the publicity given to the intention of marriage and the value of the meeting for worship, in which the declarations were made by the couple in the presence of a number of members of the Society.

Britain Yearly Meeting has established certain procedures in the case of a marriage to be solemnised in a Friends’ meeting for worship, which are described later in this chapter. This is partly to ensure that the legal requirements are observed and the proper records kept. No less important is the value of the procedure in emphasising to those joining in marriage the solemn nature of their undertaking; to the area meeting the need to uphold the couple, both during the meeting for worship and thereafter; and to all those involved, their corporate responsibility for the meeting for worship being rightly held. Couples contemplating marriage should at an early stage seek advice from their registering officer.

16.06

It was important to early Friends that their marriages should be recognised in law, and they instituted the witnessing of a certificate by all present. Historically it was argued that Quaker marriage was invalid under canon law, but Friends’ marriages were tested in English civil courts and found to be lawful. The Marriage Act of 1753 explicitly exempted Quakers and Jews from the statutory regulation of all other marriages in England and Wales. This legal validity with separate status and registration for marriages under the auspices of the Society of Friends has been reaffirmed by successive Marriage Acts in England and Wales. Past Scottish law allowed marriage without a priest or minister, so Quaker marriage has always been lawful there; since 1977 Friends in Scotland have been able to solemnise their marriages and report them to the district registrar for registration.

16.07

The discernment of Yearly Meeting in 2009 was that love and truth compel Friends to solemnise the marriage of same-sex couples equally with opposite-sex couples.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 have enabled Quakers in these jurisdictions to follow the discernment of Yearly Meeting 2009 that the quality of the relationship of the couple is crucial, not whether they are opposite sex or same sex.

It is, therefore, expected that our registering officers, on appointment, understand that they will be required to officiate at all marriages authorised by that area meeting.

16.08

Part of a minute of Britain Yearly Meeting held in York, 2009, reads: . . . a session was held . . . at which speakers shared personal experiences of the celebration and recognition of their committed relationships. These Friends had felt upheld by their meetings in these relationships but regretted that whereas there was a clear, visible path to celebration and recognition for opposite-sex couples, the options available for couples of the same sex were not clear and could vary widely between meetings. Friends who feel theirs to be an ordinary and private rather than an exotic and public relationship have had to be visible pioneers to get their relationship acknowledged and recorded.

This open sharing of personal experience has moved us and added to our clear sense that, 22 years after the prospect was first raised at Meeting for Sufferings, we are being led to treat same-sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite-sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses. . .

We have heard dissenting voices during the threshing process which has led us to this decision, and we have been reminded of the need for tenderness to those who are not with us who will find this change difficult.

Britain Yearly Meeting, 2009

16.09

Friends accord especial value to marriage according to our usage, as it uniquely expresses the Quaker understanding of what marriage is. But Friends have always recognised the validity of existing marriages solemnised by other churches or faith groups or by the civil authorities, and have never considered it appropriate to provide for those already married elsewhere to be joined in marriage also according to our usage.

16.10

As human beings we long to experience love, to find it central in our lives; we want not only to be given love but to give it. Love liberates us from the prison of ourselves.

Transient as we are, we long for permanence. Most people, deep down, want relationships that offer that ever-after quality that novels discover on their final pages. Marriage, tried and tested over centuries, is one of the best ways in which such everlastingness is helped to happen.

Quakers believe that same-sex marriage is important because we believe that we are all equal, and because we believe the quality of the love we offer to our partners is the same as everyone else’s. The true measure of an intimate relationship is its degree of selfless love, a love that isn’t proprietorial or exploitative, but tender, responsible, committed, equal; a love that feeds its transforming messages of hope and happiness benevolently into society day after day.

Rosie Bailey, 2014

16.11

We eventually have to be aware that our partner is also ‘graced’ by us and our gifts and we are denying ‘that of God in us’ if we do not develop our own gifts. The grace is in the uniting and then it is up to us. Luther married because he believed that in marriage God’s grace permeated the world. This is where marriage within a faith setting differs most from secular marriage. By God’s grace we are a gift for one another, recognising that this person is the person with whom I can create a relationship that will deepen, grow and last a lifetime. This is the dimension within the relationship which earths us in the created world, connects us with the community and is open to the transcendent.

Roger and Susan Sawtell, 2006

16.12

Friends speak of marriage ‘in the care of the meeting’. This is not merely a verbal reflection of the Quaker understanding of marriage as the Lord’s work: it denotes two distinct, concrete responsibilities.

First, the meetings (area and local) where the marriage is solemnised must care for the preparations for marriage, as laid out in 16.2616.32 & 16.3716.40 below. The life circumstances of present-day Friends do not always allow marriage to take place at a meeting where both or either of the couple are most active; family or other requirements may dictate that the marriage be celebrated under the care of a different meeting. It is important that the pastoral side of preparation for marriage should not be neglected in such instances.

Secondly, every meeting has a pastoral responsibility for the care of all marriages within it, whether of members or attenders, whether both spouses are active in the meeting or only one, whether they were married at that meeting or another, whether they were married according to the usage of Friends or in some other church or faith or by the civil authorities. In joining in marriage, a couple commit themselves not just to one another but to all around them, and every meeting must reciprocate that commitment. All within a meeting must prayerfully uphold its married people and their marriages.

16.13

The solemnisation of a marriage is only its beginning. Life brings many pressures that test the resilience of marriage and need to be faced by the married couple with support from the meeting. Sometimes they lead, despite our best efforts, to a recognition that a marriage has irretrievably ended; sometimes, in consequence, there is a possibility of remarriage after divorce.

Quakers insist that those joining in marriage must unconditionally intend their commitment to be lifelong. However, married couples can expect their commitment to be continually tested, and they must respond by continually reaffirming it. This will be easy sometimes, more often complicated, and sometimes very difficult indeed. The commitment of marriage must be founded on love and truth, so that a couple can trust one another to make peace in their marriage by harmonious resolution of conflict, not by denying or avoiding conflict. The support of the meeting for a troubled marriage can be crucial in preserving it.

Nevertheless, there will be times when a marriage simply cannot be preserved, and Friends recognise the validity of civil divorce and the dissolution of civil partnership. Good grounds for divorce do exist, and in particular one spouse cannot sustain a marriage alone when the other has withdrawn their commitment (in whatever way). The remarriage of a divorced person is, however, a sensitive issue (see 16.40); Quaker testimony to truth and integrity requires evidence of complete commitment. It is important that a pre-marital meeting for clearness (see 16.3716.39) should lead to discernment that a divorced person is approaching remarriage with the intention of making a genuine lifelong commitment, whatever the reasons for their past experience may have been.

A selection of Friends’ views may be found at Marriage and steadfast commitment 22.3322.50 and Ending of relationships 22.7322.79. For 17th-century practice see 19.56

16.14

We think it right to remind our members of the ancient testimony of our Society, that marriage is not a mere civil contract, but a religious act.

Yearly Meeting in London, 1848

16.15

No marriage following our Quaker procedures can take place which is not in conformity with the law (but see 16.6616.67 for other ways of celebrating commitment). The procedure laid down in 16.2316.36, 16.41 and 16.4616.47 must also be completed before the marriage takes place. More detailed advice on matters throughout this chapter is provided in the Handbook for registering officers or may be obtained from the Recording Clerk. Copies of the forms mentioned in this chapter and in the Handbook, other than those supplied by the civil authorities, will be supplied to registering officers by the Recording Clerk, as will the Handbook itself. The Recording Clerk is responsible for the printing and publication of these forms, and for any revision of them which may be required from time to time.

Conversion of civil partnerships

16.16

Same-sex couples who are civil partners and wish subsequently to convert this to a marriage in a Quaker meeting for worship may do so where this is permitted by law. Our marriage procedures as described in this chapter may need to be varied for these couples to take account of legal requirements. The Recording Clerk must be consulted each time a conversion is requested.

There has been a period when Friends held a Quaker marriage that could not be reported to the civil authorities as a marriage, but which was reported as a civil partnership. The yearly meeting recognises all Quaker marriages held since Yearly Meeting 2009 as equal, whether recorded by the state as a civil partnership or a marriage.

Summary of procedure

16.17

Quaker marriage is not an alternative form of marriage available to the general public, but is for members and those who, whilst not in formal membership, are in unity with its religious nature and witness. The Marriage Acts relating to England and Wales require this and our criteria apply equally in Scotland and elsewhere in the yearly meeting.

Anyone contemplating marriage according to the usage of Friends should at an early stage apply to the registering officer of the area meeting in the area in which it is intended that the marriage should take place. Ideally this should be at least six months before the intended marriage, and it must be not less than ten weeks beforehand, to give time for the necessary procedures to take place (see also 16.3316.40). The registering officer will supply the Quaker forms required (16.25).

For the solemnisation of marriages according to the usage of Friends it is not required that the premises should be registered for marriage.

16.18

Those with responsibility for the arrangements for marriages are:

  1. the registering officers of area meetings (16.2216.23), whose names and addresses may be ascertained from the Book of meetings or by enquiry among local Friends;
  2. the superintendent registrars (England and Wales) or district registrars (Scotland): these are public officials responsible for registration districts. Further details are given in the Handbook for registering officers.
16.19

Those to be married must:

  1. apply to the area meeting registering officer for their marriage to be solemnised according to the usage of Britain Yearly Meeting (16.2616.29);
  2. complete a joint declaration of an intention to marry and give that to the area meeting registering officer (16.26);
  3. obtain support in writing from two adult Friends, not relatives, for each non-member applicant (16.27);
  4. in England and Wales: give notice of intention as required by civil law to the appropriate registrar and obtain the certificates (16.3316.36);
  5. provide a Quaker marriage certificate in good time (16.57).
16.20

The registering officer must:

  1. ensure (unless it is not area meeting policy) that a meeting for clearness is appointed according to the procedure agreed by the area meeting (16.3716.39);
  2. ensure in England and Wales that the pertinent certification is in the hands of the superintendent registrar(s) for those intending to join in marriage who are not in membership (16.29 & 16.33);
  3. arrange for the giving of public notice of the intended marriage in the meeting or meetings to which the couple belong or which they usually attend (16.31);
  4. ensure that the relevant meeting for church affairs appoints the meeting for worship at which the marriage will take place (16.32, 16.4116.45);
  5. ensure that the wording and format of the Quaker marriage certificate comply with our regulations (16.57);
  6. arrange for notice of the intended meeting for worship to be given in accordance with 16.47;
  7. arrange for the solemnisation of the marriage at the meeting for worship (16.4916.56);
  8. immediately after the meeting for worship in England and Wales, arrange for the registration of the marriage, and in Scotland the appropriate signing of the schedule (16.61);
  9. report the completion of the marriage to the area meeting (16.63).
16.21

Area and local meetings have responsibility for:

  1. holding a meeting for clearness should that be required (16.3716.39);
  2. consideration of the proposed marriage, should the registering officer refer it to the area meeting (16.30);
  3. giving public notice of intention of marriage (local meeting) (16.31);
  4. appointing a meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage (area or local meeting) (16.4116.45);
  5. giving public notice of the meeting for worship for solemnisation of marriage (clerk of local meeting) (16.47);
  6. holding a meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage in right ordering (area or local meeting) (16.49, 12.12.f);
  7. recording by minute that a marriage has taken place (area meeting) (16.63);
  8. confirming that membership is held in the appropriate meeting (area meeting) (16.6416.65).

Registering officers

16.22

Each area meeting shall appoint a suitable Friend as registering officer for the purpose of these regulations, and, in England and Wales but not in Scotland, to register all marriages that may be solemnised according to the usage of the Society within the area meeting. Area meetings are advised to review their appointments regularly, normally on a triennial basis. The registering officer shall register only such marriages as are solemnised within the limits of the area meeting by which he or she is appointed. On every fresh appointment of a registering officer the area meeting making the appointment shall report to the Recording Clerk without delay, by minute signed by the clerk, the name and address of the newly appointed registering officer. The Recording Clerk is required to certify all such appointments in England and Wales to the Registrar General and, for such appointments in Scotland, to the Registrar General for Scotland.

16.23

The registering officer, acting on behalf of the area meeting, is responsible for the acceptance of an application for marriage according to Friends’ usage. He or she is also responsible for giving the couple the necessary advice and assistance in relation to the procedure under these regulations, for seeing that all the necessary steps preceding the marriage are completed, and, in England and Wales but not in Scotland, for the registration of marriages. The registering officer should feel free to consult the area meeting clerk or some other knowledgeable Friend to check that the appropriate forms have been properly completed. Area meetings may also appoint from time to time two or three Friends whom the registering officer can consult in cases where he or she feels this necessary or desirable.

All powers and duties given to the clerk of an area meeting or local meeting shall, in the case of her or his absence or incapacity, be exercised by the assistant or acting clerk of the same meeting.

16.24

At the beginning of each year the forms for the purpose supplied by the Recording Clerk should be returned by the registering officer listing all marriages that have been solemnised during the previous year under their auspices according to the usage of the Society, or, if applicable, stating none.

Detailed marriage procedure

Marriage forms

16.25

For the right holding of marriages according to the usage of Friends, there are Quaker forms that need to be completed and acted upon:

Form A: Declaration of intention of marriage (16.26, 16.28)

Form B/C: Application by someone not in membership (16.26, 16.27, 16.29)

Form D: Registering officer’s certificate (England and Wales) (16.29)

Form E: Application for public notice of intention of marriage (16.31)

Form F: Request for appointment of meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage (16.32, 16.41)

Form G: Request for public notice of meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage (16.47)

Form H: Certificate of accomplishment (16.63)

Action by the couple

16.26

The couple is required to complete a joint declaration of intention of marriage (form A) stating the time and place of the meeting for worship at which it is desired that the marriage be solemnised. If necessary the date, time and place of the marriage may be omitted when filling in this application form, but in such cases particulars should be sent to the registering officer as soon as possible. Before the application form is completed the registering officer should be satisfied that there is no evident difficulty in the intended marriage being held at the time and place proposed. The application form should be completed and returned (together with application for permission to be joined in marriage according to the usage of Friends (form B/C) (16.27) if appropriate) to the registering officer not less than ten weeks before the date of the intended marriage. Form A need not be signed by both people at the same time or in the presence of each other, but the signature of each person must be attested by one adult witness. The registering officer should meet with the couple to discuss their application and to give such advice and assistance as may be necessary. If this proves impossible, the registering officer should ask the registering officer of an area convenient for the couple to do this. The registering officer should also consider whether it would be helpful to meet each of the couple separately.

The couple must also fulfil all the legal requirements for a marriage, including ensuring that the appropriate civil authority to marry is received by the registering officer (16.3316.34). The holding of a meeting for clearness may be required of the couple as part of their preparation for marriage (16.3716.39).

16.27

If one or both of the couple is not in membership, each person not in membership must complete an application for permission to be joined in marriage according to the usage of the Religious Society of Friends (form B/C). Each application must be supported by the written recommendation of two adult members of the Society.

The two adult members are expected to have discussed the application with each of the couple. They should be satisfied that the applicant(s) is/are in unity with our testimony as to the nature of marriage, and has experience of our meetings for worship. They should not be close relatives of either of the couple. It may be appropriate to meet each person separately.

The completed forms should be returned to the registering officer, who will follow the procedure described in 16.29.

Action by registering officers

16.28

The registering officer is advised to meet with the applicants at a very early stage, preferably before they complete any marriage forms, so that the Quaker testimony on marriage (16.0116.15) may be talked over, to ensure that the applicants understand the nature of Quaker worship, our testimony of simplicity and the avoidance of ostentation (for example, in dress and decoration), and are ready to make their declarations using the words required. The registering officer should ensure a meeting for clearness (16.3716.39) is held, or (if this is not area meeting practice) at least draw one or more other Friends (preferably elders or overseers) into these conversations.

16.29

The registering officer, acting on behalf of the area meeting, has the responsibility for granting permission to non-members to be joined in marriage according to our usage (see ), noting the different procedures followed in England and Wales and in Scotland.

The registering officer, if assenting to the application, shall, if the marriage is to be solemnised in England or Wales, issue a certificate (form D) granting permission for marriage to be solemnised according to the usage of the Society in Britain to each of the couple getting married and resident in England or Wales. If the couple have to give notice to different superintendent registrars, this certificate should be issued in duplicate for each such person not in membership (see 16.33).

The issuing of this certificate to non-members is not required for marriages to be solemnised in Scotland.

If the registering officer does not accede to the application, he or she shall refer the matter to the area meeting, which may grant or refuse the application at its discretion. If the area meeting grants the application, the registering officer shall proceed. If the area meeting refuses the application, the clerk shall inform the couple in writing immediately.

16.30

Special care should be exercised in the following cases:

  1. where neither person is known to the registering officer;
  2. where neither person is a member;
  3. where either person has had a previous marriage or civil partnership dissolved;
  4. where either person has been in a long-term relationship with another person, especially where there are children.

If the registering officer does not feel able to allow arrangements to proceed without further consideration, a meeting for clearness may be helpful or the matter should be referred to the area meeting (16.29 & 16.3716.39).

16.31

On receipt of the application from the couple (form A) the registering officer, if assenting to it, shall cause public notice (form E) of the intended marriage to be given at the close of the usual meeting(s) for worship of which the couple are members, or, if not in membership, which they attend or which is the nearest to their place(s) of residence. Such notice (form E) shall be endorsed by the Friend by whom the notice is given and returned to the registering officer. If the registering officer receives any notice of objection, which must be in writing, he or she shall immediately inform the couple.

16.32

When the registering officer is satisfied that public notice of the intention of marriage has been given (form E), he or she should forward an application for a marriage to the meeting for church affairs (form F), which is responsible for appointing a meeting for worship for this purpose (16.4116.45).

Civil law requirements

Action by the couple

16.33

a. Marriages in England and Wales

Each of the couple intending to marry must give notice of the intended marriage, in person, to the superintendent registrar of the district in which he or she resides, and has resided for the period required by law, accompanied by the documentary evidence required. Marriages may take place in areas other than those in which the certificates were issued. A statutory fee is payable by each person at the time of giving notice. After the expiration of the period required by law the superintendent registrar will, on application, issue a certificate stating that the notice required by law has been duly complied with. The superintendent registrar’s certificate is valid for twelve months after the entry in the marriage notice book, after which it expires. After expiry, the application must start afresh.

If one of the couple resides outside England and Wales, the local superintendent registrar should be consulted for the procedures to be followed; these may take much longer.

If either of the couple is not in membership, a certificate (form D) (see 16.29) in respect of each one must be produced at the time when such notice is given.

b. Marriages in Scotland

Each of the couple intending to marry shall submit to the district registrar a ‘marriage notice’ accompanied by the prescribed fee and the documentary evidence required. There is no residency requirement. Marriages must take place within the area of the district registrar issuing the marriage schedule.

If one of the couple resides outwith Scotland, the district registrar should be consulted for the procedures to be followed; these may take much longer.

Following the submission of the marriage notice, the district registrar will normally be able to issue a marriage schedule after the elapse of the period required by law. Provision is made for an early issue of a marriage schedule subject to the completion of certain formalities and the approval of the Registrar General (16.36).

c. Isle of Man and Channel Islands marriages

It should be noted that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have their own marriage and civil partnership laws. If a marriage is desired to take place in those jurisdictions, then the registering officer should work with the Recording Clerk to determine how best to comply with the legislation and our Quaker requirements.

16.34

The civil certificates or marriage schedules should be delivered to the registering officer as soon as possible after they are obtained. For marriages in Scotland, a marriage schedule is obtained from the registrar for the district in which the marriage is to take place, and this should be sent to the registering officer as soon as possible after it has been obtained.

In no case can a marriage be solemnised without the production of the correct documents.

In any case where one, or both, of the couple is resident outside Great Britain, or is a foreign citizen, there may be additional civil formalities which have to be completed.

Action by registering officers

16.35

Registering officers are strongly advised to have in their possession not less than twenty-four hours before the ceremony the necessary documentation. This includes the certificates of the appropriate superintendent registrar(s) in England or Wales, or the appropriate schedule issued by the district registrar in Scotland.

Shortened period of notice

16.36

a. Marriages in England and Wales

There are provisions for certificates to be issued under the authority of the Registrar General in a period shorter than usual under certain exceptional circumstances. Couples should contact their superintendent registrar for further advice in this respect.

a. Marriages in Scotland

In Scotland, there is provision for the district registrar supplying, under certain safeguards, a marriage schedule in a period shorter than usual (see 16.33.b).

Couples are reminded that time must be allowed for Quaker procedures as described in this chapter, including in particular the proper appointment of the meeting for worship. The Recording Clerk should be consulted as soon as possible.

Action by area and local meetings

The use of meetings for clearness in preparation for marriage

16.37

Early Friends instituted ‘meetings for clearness’ (12.2212.25) to ensure that those about to be joined in marriage were ‘clear’ of any impediment to their marriage. In recent decades, Quakers have used meetings for clearness as a pastoral part of the preparation for marriage according to the usage of Friends. This is strongly recommended. A meeting for clearness can provide an opportunity for the couple and selected members of the meeting community to explore their intentions and hopes, the nature of the commitment that is being contemplated, and ways the meeting can support the marriage after its solemnisation. Consideration of a non-member’s acceptance of the Quaker understanding of marriage could also be explored here (see 16.27). The small group of Friends and the couple will get to know one another at a deeper level. Prayerful consideration in a relaxed atmosphere is time well spent, which may be of benefit to the couple in later years.

16.38

In such a meeting for clearness, note that:

  1. it will not be appropriate to include close relatives of the couple in the meeting for clearness;
  2. when an application has been received and it is agreed that a meeting for clearness should be held, at least one elder or one overseer (or experienced Friend, where these officers are not appointed) should be included in the group; in most such cases the registering officer will also join it so that he or she is in a position to give guidance to the area meeting as to whether the marriage should be allowed;
  3. any personal matters that are disclosed in the course of the meeting should be regarded as confidential to the group.
16.39

If a meeting for clearness is not required of every couple by the area meeting, a proposal to hold a meeting for clearness may nevertheless be initiated:

  1. by the couple themselves, for example if they are not yet sure whether it is right for them to be joined in marriage or to ask for a Quaker ceremony. They may want to consider the implications more deeply with a group of Friends prior to formal application. This may or may not involve the registering officer;
  2. by the registering officer in the course of initial discussions about marriage procedures to help discern the rightness of the proposed marriage;
  3. by the area meeting, particularly where there are special circumstances that need careful consideration, or if one or both of those asking for a Quaker marriage are not well known to the meeting (see 16.30).

Whether or not a meeting for clearness is held, all the procedures and requirements outlined in this chapter will have to be carefully considered and complied with.

Remarriage

16.40

Area meetings should be sympathetic to and understanding of those who wish to be joined in marriage in a Friends’ meeting and who have been divorced or who have had a civil partnership dissolved (see 16.13). Many in this situation may regret that they have not been able to keep solemn promises they have made in the past. We should all be able to share these feelings, realising the occasions when we have not been able to fulfil the promises we have made. Whilst in no way departing from our corporate testimony as to the sanctity and lifelong nature of marriage, area meetings are given discretion whether or not to grant permission to those who wish to be re-married in a Friends’ meeting.

In exercising such discretion, area meetings will need to be fully satisfied that those who wish to be remarried share this testimony and, except in rare cases, are well known to and associated with the meeting. Area meetings should appoint certain Friends of sound judgment and discretion to serve as a meeting for clearness (see 16.3716.39 & 12.2212.25) to consider each application and so assist the meeting in reaching a decision without undesirable discussion of details in the meeting itself.

See also 22.7322.79 for extracts on the ending of relationships

Appointment of meeting for worship for solemnisation of marriage

16.41

On receipt of a request for a marriage (form F) from the registering officer, the clerk of the area or local meeting for church affairs (as the case may be) should bring before it the request for the appointment of a meeting for worship (16.4216.43). The meeting shall decide whether a meeting for worship (which must be open to the public) may be appointed at the time and place desired by the couple, or at any other time and place which may be mutually convenient, subject to compliance with the law (16.46). If the civil certificates or schedule (16.3416.35) have not been received, the meeting for worship may be appointed subject to the satisfactory completion of these formalities. The registering officer shall inform the couple of the decision of the meeting.

16.42

A public meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage is the responsibility of the area meeting within the area of which it is held. Where this is desired at a meeting held less frequently than once a week, or where it is proposed to hold a marriage at a place where no regular public meeting for worship is held, the appointment shall always be made by the area meeting. Area meetings may wish to ensure any venue proposed is willing for any legally allowed marriage to take place there.

16.43

The area meeting may grant permission to a local meeting in its area, where a meeting for worship is held weekly, to appoint meetings for worship for the solemnisation of marriage at its usual venue. Permission should be given only to local meetings deemed capable of discharging this responsibility and where it is reasonable to expect there will be a sufficient number of well-concerned Friends at any marriage. The area meeting should make arrangements for the regular review of the delegation of such permission, which may be withdrawn at any time (see 4.10.o).

Between meetings procedure

16.44

In cases where the area meeting is the appointing body and serious inconvenience would be caused if the appointment of a meeting were delayed until the next area meeting, the clerk of the area meeting may, in consultation with the registering officer and such other Friends as he or she considers appropriate, make the appointment on its behalf. Such action is to be minuted at the next area meeting

16.45

In cases where the local meeting is the appointing body and serious inconvenience would be caused if the appointment of a meeting were delayed until the next local meeting for church affairs, the clerk of the local meeting may, in consultation with the registering officer, arrange for Friends at the meeting concerned to make the appointment at the conclusion of meeting for worship. Such action is to be minuted at the next local meeting for church affairs.

The Quaker marriage

The time and place of the meeting for worship

16.46

In appointing the time and place of the public meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage, the registering officer should be consulted in order that he or she may be present. In cases where the registering officer is unable to be present, the Recording Clerk should be consulted.

It is recommended that the meeting making the appointment ensures, by the appointment of a sufficient number of suitable Friends, that the meeting for worship may be rightly held in accordance with our usage.

Although the relationship between Quaker practice and the law is different in England and Wales and in Scotland, it is desirable that our practice should be consistent throughout our yearly meeting.

Friends’ marriages may, subject to the conditions set out below, be solemnised on any day and at any time in a meeting house or other place to which the public has access. If, however, it is proposed to solemnise a marriage outside the hours from eight in the morning to six in the afternoon, or in a place where no regular public meeting for worship is held, the area meeting (in consultation with the registering officer and with the Recording Clerk) should satisfy itself that there are adequate reasons for this, that the public will have access, that a sufficient number of Friends will be able to attend at the time and place proposed to ensure that the meeting for worship is rightly held in accordance with our usage, and that there are no legal impediments. Further details are given in the Handbook for registering officers.

Any exceptional arrangements (for instance, for those who are housebound, detained, or seriously ill and not expected to recover) require close consultation between the Recording Clerk, the registering officer and the official registrar (see 16.36).

16.47

Public notice of a meeting for worship (form G) appointed for the solemnisation of marriage shall be given at the place at which it is to be held, or – if it is not to be held at a place of regular public worship – at the most suitable regular local meeting, at the close of the usual meeting for worship last held there before the day of solemnisation. The procedure for doing so, including in places where a meeting for worship is held less often than once a week, is set out in the Handbook for registering officers.

Holding a meeting for worship for the solemnisation of marriage

16.48

Marriages are often attended by relatives or friends who have no previous experience of a meeting for worship. The couple may feel it helpful to send invited guests copies of such leaflets as are available on the conduct of marriages, or they may choose to send a letter of their own composing with the invitation, telling guests of the form of worship, the procedure and what is expected of them.

16.49

Elders have responsibility for the conduct of the meeting for worship (12.12.f). It is now common practice to arrange for the registering officer or another Friend to give a short explanation of the proceedings at the outset of the meeting for worship for marriage.

During the course of the meeting the couple will exchange declarations of marriage using the prescribed words. The declaration must be made in English (16.52) except that in places where the Welsh tongue is used a Welsh form of the declaration may be used (16.53). Wedding rings play no formal part in Quaker marriages, but many couples like to give each other rings after they have made their declarations. Potentially disturbing photography or electronic recording is not suitable during the meeting for worship. At an appropriate stage during the meeting a Quaker certificate confirming the declarations is signed by the couple and two or more witnesses, and is then read aloud by the registering officer, or other suitable Friend. After the meeting it is customary for all present when the declarations were made to sign this certificate. For couples in England and Wales, the official registration of marriage, or in Scotland the signing of the marriage schedule, will take place immediately after the conclusion of the meeting.

16.50

It was an extraordinary meeting for worship – in three languages and in a packed meeting room. Tears flowed and laughter did too. The bridegroom was twenty three and Welsh, the bride twenty two and Swedish. Love and support flowed towards the pair as they each in turn made their promises in both Welsh and in English. Others rose to speak of marriage and the journey of the Spirit; of Swedish Friends’ love of the bride and of the public witnessing by all present of what was a reality already – the God intended partnership of the two.

Towards the Source, 2014

16.51

Should the registering officer be prevented through illness or absence from home or any other cause from issuing or signing the Quaker marriage forms (see 16.25), he or she (or failing this the clerk of the area meeting) shall be at liberty to appoint any suitable Friend to act for him or her in these respects. It must be emphasised that this should not become a normal manner of proceeding.

If, in England and Wales, the registering officer should be prevented from being present at the solemnisation of the marriage, care shall be taken that the entries be, notwithstanding, duly made and signed by the couple and witnesses. The registering officer, having been satisfied of the regularity of the proceedings, shall afterwards add her or his signature. No person, not even a deputy or assistant registering officer, may sign the register in her or his place.

Declaration

16.52

When the meeting for worship is gathered, the couple at a convenient time shall stand, if able, and, taking each other by the hand, declare in an audible and solemn manner, the one after the other in either order, each saying:

Friends, I take this my friend . . . . . . . . . . . [full name] to be my spouse, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto him/her/[commonly used name] a loving and faithful spouse, so long as we both on earth shall live.

The declaration may be prefaced by ‘In the presence of God’ or ‘In the fear of the Lord and in the presence of this assembly’. The word ‘spouse’ may be replaced by ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ as appropriate or by ‘partner in marriage’. The phrase ‘through divine assistance’ may be replaced by the words ‘with God’s help’. The phrase ‘so long as we both on earth shall live’ may be replaced by the words ‘until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us’. No other changes to the wording may be made. The choice of alternatives shall be agreed in advance by the couple and the registering officer. In any case, both must make their declarations in identical terms (or corresponding terms in the case of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’); their promises must be equal and reciprocal.

Datganiad

16.53

The following is a translation into Welsh of 16.52:

Pan fo’r cyfarfod i addoli wedi ymgynnull, mae’r ddeuddyn, pan fo’n gyfleus, i sefyll, os y medrant, a chan afael y naill yn llaw y llall, i ddatgan yn eglur ac yn ddifrifol, y naill ar ôl y llall, ym mha bynnag drefn y dymunant, gan ddweud:

Gyfeillion, yr wyf i yn cymryd fy nghyfaill/nghyfeilles . . . . . . . . . . . [enw llawn] yn briod i mi gan addo, trwy gymorth dwyfol, y byddaf iddo ef/iddi hi/i [enw a arferir yn gyffredin] yn briod cariadus a ffyddlon gyhyd ac y byddom ill dau byw ar y ddaear.

Gellir cynnwys, fel rhagymadrodd i’r datganiad, y geiriau ‘Ym mhresenoldeb Duw’ neu’r geiriau ‘Yn ofn Duw ac ym mhresenoldeb y gynulleidfa hon’. Gellir defnyddio’r gair ‘gwraig’ neu ‘gŵr’ yn hytrach na ‘priod’ fel y bo’n addas, neu ‘partner mewn priodas’. Yn hytrach na’r geiriau ‘trwy gymorth dwyfol’ gellir dweud ‘trwy gymorth Duw’. Yn lle’r geiriau ‘gyhyd ac y byddom fyw ar y ddaear’ gellir defnyddio ‘hyd nes y gwêl yr Arglwydd yn dda ein gwahanu trwy angau’. Ni oddefir unrhyw newidiadau eraill i’r geiriad. Rhaid i’r cwpwl gytuno ar eu dewis o eiriad gyda’r swyddog cofrestru ymlaen llaw. Ym mhob achos rhaid i’r ddau sy’n priodi ddefnyddio’r union eiriau (neu eiriad cyfatebol wrth ddefnyddio ‘gŵr’ neu ‘gwraig’) ac mae’n rhaid i’w haddewidion fod yn gyfartal a chyfatebol.

16.54

If one or other of the couple wishes to make the declaration in any language other than English or Welsh, then that may be done, but the registering officer needs to ensure that an interpreter is present to testify to the words spoken before the certificate is read. In addition, the person concerned should make the declaration to the best of their ability in English or Welsh.

16.55

If, by reason of an impediment of speech or otherwise, either person is unable to make the declaration distinctly, then the registering officer present at the marriage shall read the declaration audibly and the person shall signify assent to its terms in some clear and unmistakable way so that the registering officer is satisfied that the meeting has understood this assent.

16.56

The marriage of a couple is a legal contract from the moment both have made their declarations, even though the official registration of the marriage takes place later (in different ways in England and Wales and in Scotland).

Recording of marriages

Quaker certificate of marriage

16.57

This certificate is prepared beforehand with the wording in 16.58 or 16.59, and is to be signed during the meeting by each of the couple with their surnames used immediately prior to marriage. All languages spoken in the declarations must normally be transcribed in full on the certificate. Directly after it has been signed by at least two of those present as witnesses, it is to be read audibly by the registering officer or other suitable Friend. Others present at the marriage who have witnessed the declarations are encouraged to sign the certificate after the conclusion of the meeting. Templates of this certificate in English in scroll form may be obtained from the Quaker Centre Bookshop at Friends House. Specially created certificates are also acceptable; all certificates should be agreed with the registering officer well in advance of the ceremony.

The certificate should be signed and read either immediately after the declarations have been made or towards the close of the meeting.

16.58

Certificate of marriage

[full name and either address or parentage]* and [full name and either address or parentage]* having made known their intention of taking each other in marriage and public notice of their intention having been given, the proceedings were allowed by the proper officers of . . . . . . . . . . . Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

This is to certify that for the solemnisation of their marriage, [name] and [name] were present at a duly appointed public meeting for worship of the Society at † . . . . . . . . . . .

this . . . day of . . . month of the year . . . .

Taking each other by the hand,

[name]+ . . . . . . . . . . . declared:

and [name]+ . . . . . . . . . . . declared:

In confirmation of these declarations they have in this meeting signed this certificate of marriage.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We having been present at the above marriage have also subscribed our names as witnesses the day, month and year above written.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

* The couple should each use the same descriptor.

† Here should be inserted address of meeting house or other place.

+ Either the full name or the commonly used forename and surname.

16.59

Tystysgrif priodas

Gan i [enw llawn a chyfeiriad neu riaint]* a [enw llawn a chyfeiriad neu riaint]* fynegi eu bwriad i gymryd y naill a’r llall mewn priodas a chan i’r bwriad hwnnw gael ei hysbysu’n gyhoeddus fe ganiatawyd y gweithrediadau gan swyddogion cymwys Cyfarfod Rhanbarth . . . . . . . . o Gymdeithas Grefyddol y Cyfeillion.

Hyn sydd i dystio i [enw] a [enw], er dathlu eu priodas, fod yn bresennol mewn cyfarfod addoli cyhoeddus o’r Gymdeithas a benodwyd yn† . . . . . . . . . . .

ar y . . . dydd o’r . . . mis yn y flwyddyn . . . .

Gan gymryd llaw y naill a’r llall,

Datganodd . . . . . . . . . . . [enw]+:

a datganodd . . . . . . . . . . . [enw]+:

Mewn cadarnhad o’r datganiadau hyn maent, yn y cyfarfod hwn, wedi arwyddo’r dystysgrif hon.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yr ydym ninnau hefyd, a fu’n bresennol yn ystod y briodas, yn torri ein henwau yma fel tystion ar y dydd, y mis a’r flwyddyn a ysgrifennwyd uchod.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

* Rhaid i’r cwpwl ddefnyddio’r un disgrifydd.

† Yma dylid rhoi cyfeiriad y tŷ cwrdd neu pa bynnag fan y bo.

+ Naill ai enw llawn neu’r enwau a arferir yn gyffredin.

16.60

The certificate of marriage is to be used only when the procedure has been followed in accordance with the provisions in this chapter.

It should not be used in other circumstances, as, for instance, at a meeting for worship held in conjunction with a marriage not according to our usage (including a meeting for worship for celebration of a marriage previously solemnised) (16.67). Advice on wording for an alternative form of certificate is available from the Recording Clerk.

Reporting to the civil authorities

Registration of marriage

16.61

In England and Wales, immediately after the conclusion of the meeting, the marriage shall be registered by the registering officer, as described in the Handbook for registering officers. If, in England or Wales, the registering officer should be prevented from being present at the solemnisation of the marriage see 16.51 for the action to be followed.

In Scotland, a couple shall deliver the properly signed marriage schedule to the district registrar to be registered.

Official civil certificates

16.62

For marriages in England and Wales, a registering officer shall, if required, issue a certificate, which is the certified copy of any entry in any of the marriage registers of the area meeting by which he or she is appointed. For this a fee may be payable. The procedures for doing so are given in the Handbook for registering officers. In Scotland, application should be made to the district registrar for extracts of the marriage register.

The General Register Office holds a central copy of all registrations of marriage or civil partnership for England and Wales over six months old, and certificates may be ordered online. Advice on obtaining extracts of marriage or civil partnership registers in Scotland can be found on the website of the National Records of Scotland.

All these are the official certificates of marriage or civil partnership, necessary for official purposes.

It is important to distinguish between the traditional Quaker certificate of marriage, which has no legal standing, and the official certificate of marriage, which is a certified copy of an entry in the appropriate registers.

Area meeting responsibilities

Report to area meetings

16.63

When the marriage has been solemnised and duly registered (see 16.61) the registering officer shall report it to the area meeting (form H). The area meeting shall record by minute the receipt of such report with particulars of the membership of the couple, and the date and registration of the marriage.

In cases where either of the couple is a member of an area meeting other than the one under the auspices of which the marriage has taken place, the registering officer of the area meeting responsible for the marriage shall report it to the clerk of each such area meeting, which shall similarly record the particulars of the marriage by minute.

Transfer of membership on marriage

16.64

An area meeting on receipt of a report of a marriage of one of its members shall ask overseers to consult with the Friend, in order that any transfer of membership may be made as soon as possible after the marriage. If any such transfer is required it shall be by certificate for transfer of membership, according to the usual practice (11.2311.26). If it is not possible for a decision to be taken at the time of marriage as to what transfer of membership should be made, the question shall be continued in the care of overseers.

Membership not acquired by marriage

16.65

It should be noted that a person not in membership does not acquire by marriage any right of membership of the Society of Friends, notwithstanding that the person they have married is a member. Meetings are encouraged to make welcome those who become associated with them through marriage to one of their members.

Celebration of commitment

16.66

(see 22.44 & 22.46)

Some couples may wish to have a meeting for worship in loving support of their commitment which does not have any element of the legal process within it. Such meetings are properly under the care of elders, but it would be beneficial if the area meeting registering officer were told well before such a meeting took place. Elders are urged to seek advice as necessary.

16.67

In such cases it is essential that it is made clear to the couple that this is not a marriage held in the manner of Friends. The wording of any declarations must reflect this. Any certificate used should reflect the particular nature of this meeting for worship (16.60). Advice on procedures may be obtained from the Recording Clerk. Local or area meetings may wish to record the holding of such a meeting for worship at a future business meeting.