Update 28/11/2017: Former cabinet minister Caroline Spelman, is to present the bill to allow for mothers’ names on marriage certificates for second reading this week. The bill is co-sponsored by Frank Field, Maria Miller and Tim Farron.The Right Reverend Dr Alan Smith, a senior bishop of the Church of England, has put forward a draft bill which aims to make provision for recording of the name of the mother of each party on the marriage certificate. At present, only the names of the fathers are included on the documents.
David Cameron pledged to make this change a few years ago as he said that the current system, which has remained unchanged since the 1800s, “does not reflect modern Britain”. In 2015, the proposal was rejected because it was seen to be unfair to same-sex parents. The idea was raised again last year when the new Registration of Marriage Bill was drafted by Conservative MP Edward Agar but the dissolution of Parliament for the General Election meant that this did not get debated.
However the Right Reverend Dr Smith decided that the current system could not remain unchanged and is now pushing once more for mothers’ names to be included. He explained to The Telegraph the need for change and said that there has been a “clamour from many different groups pointing out that as the legislation currently stands it is very unfair” so “many people want to see it changed”. Indeed Labour MP Christina Rees has said that it “beggars belief” that in a “developed country in the 21st century” women are still being “accorded second-class status”.
Practical difficulties also prevented the new system being put in place as it would require the replacement of thousands of registrar books, estimated to cost approximately £13 million. The Right Reverend Dr Smith attempted to overcome this problem by proposing a system where marriages could be recorded electronically. He has suggested that couples getting married could sign a document which would then be submitted and recorded electronically on a digital registrar. However, marriage certificates are essentially copies of register entries so the current registrar books would still need to be altered to allow for this new information to be added to marriage certificates for existing marriages. Despite this, the Home Office have said that the new system would still result in savings of £30 million over a 10 year period and that it would cost approximately £1.3 million to set up.
After years of campaigning it is disappointing to many that mothers are still not acknowledged in their own child’s marriage: amending the system would be a hefty task, but it is clear that the voices for change will not go away. But whether the certificates are updated to include the mother or not, the marriage system evidently has a long way to go before it can cater to people of all different backgrounds and familial circumstances.