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For the record, mothers-in-law are official after 184 years

For the record, mothers-in-law are official after 184 years

From 4 May, mothers will be recorded on wedding certificates in England and Wales for the first time | Adobe Stock

3 min read

Amid the distractions of our pandemic-constrained parliament, colleagues may have missed a small but significant result in a Statutory Instrument Committee meeting recently.

For the first time since 1837, in England and Wales the names of the mothers of the happy couple at a wedding ceremony will be recorded on the marriage register, not just the fathers. Couples will now sign a marriage schedule at the ceremony instead of a paper register, and all unions will be registered in a single electronic marriage register. The measures come in to force on 4 May.

The surprising anachronism, now rectified, dates back to the days when brides were given away as “chattels.” Many proud mums had no idea they were to be excluded until they joined the wedding party signing the register at the end of a service and, to the strains of Ave Maria spiralling heavenwards, had to be physically restrained from grabbing the biro. In the case of my own marriage back in 1992, it was doubly insulting to our mothers as my father’s signature appears twice on the certificate as he was also the presiding vicar.

The changes result from my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 which is regarded as one of the more ambitious and wide-reaching of all Private Members’ Bills to have made it from the ballot to the statute book. Having come up for the first, and probably last, time in the ballot since being elected in 1997, I greedily decided to go for it and included no fewer than four separate measures in the bill.

Many proud mums had no idea they were to be excluded

After a long haul of ducking and diving over 18 months, and with the help of the fantastic Baroness Hodgson in the Lords, all four measures survived, and the bill became an act in February 2019. As many colleagues will know, getting the primary legislation through both Houses is not the end of it, and even after this week we are only halfway there.

The main measure of the bill to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples came into effect on 31 December 2019, with the regulations passing by the skin of their teeth on the floor of the House on the final day before dissolution ahead of the 2019 general election. Until the pandemic kiboshed most ceremonies, the measures were going down very well and it was so gratifying to receive messages from loving couples whose relationship is now legit in the eyes of the state.

So, two down, two to go. The act also makes provision to give coroners the power to investigate stillbirths. Given the various scandals in certain maternity departments, this additional scrutiny is as necessary as ever. However, it is complicated by being a joint responsibility between health and justice, and we are still awaiting the regulations.

The final measure is a requirement for the health secretary to produce a report on baby loss and specifically how to deal with babies stillborn just before the 24-week artificial threshold and who, in the eyes of the state, never existed. 

This part of the bill produced the most emotional and heart-breaking responses from parents, including MPs who had gone through the pains of childbirth only for the baby tragically not to be alive. The tragedy and grief are compounded by there being no way of entering the birth in the official record and that is why this act is still only a work in progress, and I will be battling on to complete its important measures. 


Tim Loughton is Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham


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