"Forbid the banns"
The Church of England Banned the Banns of Marriage in 1996
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Church of England Banned the Banns of Marriage in 1996 - Credit: Andrew Smith

Marriage banns, also called the banns of marriage, are a formal announcement by a Christian church of a couple's intention to wed. Primarily administered by the Church of England and Catholic churches, the banns must be read on three separate Sundays prior to the wedding, in the church where the wedding service is taking place and where both parties reside.

The Church of Ancient Ways says:

"During European feudal times, all public announcements concerning deaths, taxes, or births were called "banns."

The reading of the wedding banns, which include both partners' names and the parish where they reside, allows priests to ask their congregation whether parishioners know of any impediment to the forthcoming marriage.

In 1996, as reported by Britain's Independent newspaper:

"The Church of England's General Synod yesterday took 15 minutes to decide to try to abolish the 796-year-old tradition of reading the banns of marriage during services for the three weeks before a union can be solemnised in church."

Prior to this, if a priest failed to read the banns of marriage, he risked a jail sentence of up to 14 years. The term banns comes from a Middle English word meaning "proclamation," and its original purpose was to prevent clandestine marriages.

One Scottish case in particular led to Lord Hardwicke's Act or Marriage Act (1754), which declared a marriage legally valid only if the banns were called and a marriage licence obtained.

The Catholic church abandoned the practice in 1983.