Don Foster MP*


Don Foster has succeeded in his campaign to change the absurd rules which ban from civil wedding services the use of texts containing the slightest religious connotation.

Main ImageCommenting, Don said,

"I'm delighted my campaign has ended this crazy ban.

"This bizarre form of censorship has blighted the experience of many couples on their big day.

"Now this consultation has proven the obvious - that songs like Amazing Grace, Robbie William's Angels and Aretha Franklin's I Say a Little Prayer don't make a marriage service religious.

"It's also good news that rules on wedding readings have been relaxed so that Shakespeare sonnets and the nation's favourite love poem [How do I love thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning] are back on the menu.”

Bath residents, Nick and Molly Rijke, whose wedding last year alerted Don Foster to the problem, were delighted at the news.

“Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem has always been one of our favorites.

“We simply couldn’t believe it when we were told we couldn’t have it read at our wedding. I felt frustrated and pretty cross that such a daft rule should spoil our plans for our special day.

“Don was great in taking this up for us and we’re both really pleased, for all future civil wedding couples, that his campaign has succeeded,” said Nick.


Notes to Editors:

1. A new report by the General Register Office has concluded that
"incidental" religious references in civil marriages should be allowed. [report available on request].

2. Don Foster MP wrote to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer(whose department is responsible for the General Registrar's Office and Civil Marriages) on 28 May 2023 to ask that the expected new regulations on civil marriages includes the provision for clear, commonsensical guidance to be issued on which poems, books and music can be used in ceremonies to end the current bizarre censorship.

3. Ruth Kelly replied to Don Foster MP on 5 July 2023 (received 13 July '04):

Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.

Although the legislation has not changed since [the Marriages Act 1994] I accept that public perception of whether certain texts and music carry religious connotations may well have shifted.

The Registrar General intends to conduct a review of the interpretation of religious content that should be placed on texts and music for use at civil marriage ceremonies.

Full letter available on request.

4. Current law prevents religious poems, books or songs from being used in civil marriage ceremonies. However, the lack of clear guidance on what constitute "religious" has led to the banning of many much loved items.

Section 46(B) of the Marriage Act 1949 provides that no religious service shall be used at a marriage on approved premises. Regulation 6(1)(a) and Schedule 2 Paragraph 11 of the Marriages (Approved Premises) Regulations 1995 [SI 1995/510] provide that one of the conditions to be attached to grants of approval of premises is:

Any reading, music, words or performance which forms part of a ceremony of marriage celebrated on the premises must be secular in nature; for this purpose any such material used by way of introduction to, in any interval between parts of, or by way of conclusion to the ceremony shall be treated as forming part of the ceremony.

5. In BBC television's Bookworm poll to find Britain's favourite love poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How Do I Love Thee? or XLIII from Sonnets from the Portuguese, was voted number one. After seeking legal advice, registrars "banned" this poem for its reference to 'Grace' 'Being' and 'God' despite being a love poem not a religious text.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Some registrars have lists of words which they consider to be religious and are therefore banned from civil weddings. Some of these lists included songs such as Bryan Adams' songs and Van Morrison's Have I told you lately (as well as Amazing Grace, Robbie William's Angels and Aretha Franklin's I Say a Little Prayer).

6. The Marriages Section of the General Register Office has issued central 'guidance to individual registrars suggesting what texts they considered 'religious'. One such text effectively 'banned' by such a circular is The Prophet by Gilbran.

This article published: 17/11/2023

Published by Bath Liberal Democrats, 31 James St West, Bath, BA1 2BT. Printed and hosted by JPC Infonet, 2 St Georges Works, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14 8AA. Your Privacy._blank

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