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19 August 2014

Mothers’ names will finally be added to UK marriage certificates

The prime minister has announced that the names of couples’ mothers will now be added to marriage registers, in the first reform to the system in over 150 years.

By Fiona Rutherford

David Cameron has pledged that mothers’ names will now appear alongside fathers’ names on marriage certificates. This will be the first reform to the system in over 150 years.

The system, which dated back to the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, prohibited mothers from providing their details and only allowed the names of couples’ fathers to be entered on marriage registers. However, the Prime Minister’s announcement now guarantees the names of couple’s mothers to be added to marriage registers.

In a speech to the Relationships Alliance in central London, David Cameron said:

We’re going to address another inequality in marriage too. The content of marriage registers in England and Wales has not changed since the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. At the moment, they require details of the couples’ fathers, but not their mothers. This clearly doesn’t reflect modern Britain – and it’s high time the system was updated”

Although for some this is a minor and perhaps insignificant part of the marriage process, essentially it reflects a dark past, when women were presented as the property of men and “chattels” to be traded.

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A petition created earlier this year on change.org, asked for marriage to “no longer be seen as a business transaction between the father of the bride and the father of the groom”. For many people, including the seventy thousand people who signed the campaign, this outdated segment of the marriage process was viewed not only as a symbol of the oppression of women, but also a reflection of how casually society considers women’s equality.

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Journalist and feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, felt unable to marry her fiancé until the changes to the registers were made, and previously stated:

We tell women to just get married anyway and ignore what is a legal process at the heart of the ceremony – that we tell women to concern their minds only with the fluffy bits. I think we ignore the significance, underlying or not, of legal documents at our peril.”

Since the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act came into force in July 2013, not only is the new reform another victory for those fighting gender equality, but also a promising step towards modernising marriage in Britain – as now, what applies to men, will also apply to women.

This seemingly small inequality is part of a much wider pattern of inequality,” said Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler, who started the petition. “Women are routinely silenced and written out of history. There is space for the name of the father of the bride and the father of the groom and theiroccupations. On civil partnership certificates there is space for mothers. On Scottish and Northern Irish marriage certificates there are spaces for mothers.”

She concluded:

 I never imagined I would get so much support and that the Prime Minister would respond to our calls — and on my wedding anniversary! Thank you for all your support – we did it!”