LONDON – Marriage certificates in England and Wales have traditionally left room for the names and professions of only one parent: the couple’s fathers marry.
That changed on Tuesday, as couples are now allowed to add the names of mothers to their official marriage certificate. The change fixes “a historical anomaly” and is part of a larger overhaul of the way marriages are registered in both countries, the UK government has said. Trade unions will also now be registered in a single electronic register rather than in the registers of the register.
The changes are the most significant in the registration system since the Marriage Act came into effect in 1837, the Home Office said, and have been underway for several years. In 2014 David Cameron, then Prime Minister, said the system did not reflect “modern Britain” and pledged to make changes.
But the final stages of legislation to include both parents were only presented to parliament last month, spurred on by a broader bill passed in 2019. The previous bill included the move to an electronic register of marriages and the extension of the right to civil partnerships to all couples.
Home Secretary Kevin Foster said in a statement: “These changes bring the registration process into the 21st century and mean that no parent will go missing on their child’s wedding day.”
An official from the Church of England, one of the institutions consulted during the overhaul of the register, said the Church was “very happy” that mothers can now also be named.
“Changing the practices that go back many years is never easy, but we believe the new system changes as little as possible when it comes to the couple’s experience of their church marriage,” the official said, Reverend Malcolm Brown, mission and public affairs director for the church, said in a statement.
The new regulations for the clergy, he said, would become “second nature very quickly.” Many Britons welcomed the changes as a long overdue correction. Some said they had used their mother as witnesses of their marriage to bypass the requirements and ensure they are included in the certificates.
Caroline Criado Perez, a British author and women’s rights activist, said she refused to marry until the certificates included the mothers. “It was not right for me to voluntarily participate in the erasure of women,” she wrote on Twitter. Others have criticized the overhaul as a small and largely meaningless step compared to other obstacles women face.
The change comes as other government departments also try to reflect social change. The UK government on Tuesday reduced the application fee for those seeking a legal sex change in England and Wales from £ 140, or around $ 195, to £ 5. LGBTQ rights activists had criticized the cost as a barrier for transgender people seeking to formally recognize their gender identity on a certificate.
Almost 6,000 such certificates were issued from 2005 to 2020, although 200,000 to 500,000 transgender people live in Britain, the Government Equality Office said, adding that it was also working “at high speed” to make go through the online application process.