The reading of the banns of marriage on three consecutive Sundays has been a longstanding feature of English church life. A visiting couple sits nervously at the back of the church, waiting to hear their names. “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it.” Since the Middle Ages, banns have been the traditional legal preliminary to marriage in the English church. All this changed after the Immigration Act 2014. Since then, if one of the couple is a non-European – specifically not an EEA national – church banns cannot be used as the required legal preliminary to marriage. These couples have to inform the local register office. And they then inform the Home Office.
Recently we have heard about several cases where Home Office would come early in the morning to people’s houses, searched the premises, question them or even take one of them for questioning. All the couples where engaged to be marry and one of the partners was a non-EEA citizen. No one has to suggest their is any sort of sham marriage. It obviously isn’t. Nonetheless, because the administration of marriage has been taken out of the hands of the church for non-Europeans through the 2014 Immigration Act (yes, of course, it’s racist), perfectly legitimate marriages have become bureaucratic honey traps for those whose immigration status is unclear. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” Yes, argues the slippery Home Office.
Of course you have a right to marry. But we can still make sure you don’t make it to the church on time. Because we will deport you before you make it up the aisle. So much for our rights.