Guest post: 'Why aren't mothers included on marriage certificates?'
In England, marriage certificates include the names and occupations of the couple's fathers - but not their mothers.
In this guest post, MN blogger Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler - who has started a campaign to get mothers added - explains why it matters, arguing that we are systematically writing women out of history.
Posted on: Thu 15-May-14 12:17:43
(98 comments )
Did you know that marriage certificates in England and Wales include a section for the names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom, but the names and occupations of their mothers are not allowed to be recorded?
In Scotland and Northern Ireland information about mothers is included. Civil Partnerships also recognise mothers, unlike same sex marriages, which mirror their heterosexual counterparts.
‘So what?’ I hear some corners of the internet cry – ‘haven't we got bigger fish to fry?’ But imagine you've brought up your child on your own – when the most important day of their life comes along you won't be legally acknowledged, and the absent father will be. And if you've raised a child together, imagine that only he is considered important enough to give his blessing to the union.
And it's about more than a hurtful snub - it's about the erasing of women from the civil and legal system of which marriage is a central part. We're writing women out of history, and it seems indicative of a society where decisions are made by men to suit men.
As a consequence of women being under-represented on every platform, it often takes a petition to get any progress. So, I set one up. I am campaigning for a change in the law so that those who want to can record information about their mothers, and more than 33,000 people have signed it so far.
They, like I, find it astonishing that a legal document in 2014 discriminates against women in this way, particularly when you consider that public bodies are supposed to be following the Equality Act regardless of cost. When the UK signed up to the global convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it committed to: “incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women.”
It's about more than a hurtful snub - it's about the erasing of women from the civil and legal system of which marriage is a central part. We're writing women out of history, and it seems indicative of a society where decisions are made by men to suit men.
Many would argue it's astonishing that a couple should need any 'sign-off' from their parents at all, but at least if it's both parents it feels less like a transfer of property from father-of-the-bride to father-of-the-groom.
Supporters of the petition are young and old, women and men, and include lots of vicars and registrars. Younger people are astonished to learn about this inequality, and older people are amazed that nothing has changed since they got married. Family historians have pointed out the difficulties they have in tracing the maternal line without being able to find corroborating information from certificates.
One vicar said: "I'm tired of apologising for the sexism in marriage paperwork”, and a registrar commented: "I have been campaigning for this within my role for many years. It is a competition between bureaucracy and equality." Last week Caroline Criado-Perez, who was successful in her campaign to keep a woman on English bank notes, wrote that she will not be marrying her fiancé until equality wins out.
As with Caroline's campaign, this may seem like a little thing, but the visibility of women is essential in the fight for equality – we need to be seen as agents in our marriages, rather than just bit players. And in answer to the people who groan "not another petition" - I am proud to continue the feminist suffragette history of gathering signatures. It's just a little easier now - unlike our pioneering fore-sisters who won us the vote, I don't have to trudge around door to door due to change.org, Mumsnet and social media.
Because I'm already married, I'm going to add the information about my mother and mother-in-law to my original marriage certificate so that I can pass it on to my son and future generations will know who we are. The £9.25 for a duplicate copy (as I will invalidate the original with my pesky quest for acknowledgement!) isn't an enormous sum, but I shouldn't have to pay to right this wrong - they should have been included in the first place. If you agree, do sign and share the petition here.
By Ailsa Burkimsher Sadler
I've already signed this via Facebook.
I had no idea but checked my certificate and it is indeed true. Thanks!
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I signed the petition when it first started.
The registrar was aghast (as in she actually sucked in a breath) when, in the interview for the notice of marriage, she found out I don't have my father's last name, and that I didn't want him on the certificate.
How terribly ironic that one of the main security devices asked for by banks is your mother's maiden name!
Agree with this campaign!
I also agree and have signed the petition. If Scotland and NI can do it, why can't England and Wales?
It just seems crazy that if and when my DCs get married, their father's name and occupation will be on the certificate even though by then he will probably have been dead more than 20 years (died when they were 8 and 3), but the name of the person who brought them up will not be recorded.
I've just posted here demonstrating the difference between the certificates in England & Wales, and those in Scotland.
As a family historian, I find it enraging that women are so invisible in the English system.
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
I never thought of that, miggs, but so true.
I have found that to be a bit annoying on occasion (the implication being it's different from yours and therefore applicable as a security question).
Anyway, got distracted, but it's lovely to see this up here, OP.
Entirely agree but it cannot be retrospective. It can only apply to certificates of marriages after the law is changed; not to certificates issued after of marriages before. A certificate sets out the information collected at the time and if the mothers' names weren't collected, they weren't collected.
I can't imagine how anyone could oppose this. Remarkable that it still exists.
I'd love to get rid of the "occupation" bit, while we're at it. DP wanted to write "haunting other dead people's tombs".
I've no intention of remarrying but I will sign. I have sons and a daughter and would be proud to have put my signature to this step forward in human evolution.
seems particularly bizarre to record fathers but not mothers when you consider that every person born will have a known mother (barring having been abandoned somewhere) but fathers may genuinely be unknown.
not to mention cases of rape, incest, sperm donorship or if the mother isn't sure which of several candidates resulted in her pregnancy.
motherhood is FAR more reliable a way of ascertaining which me is me and cross reference with birth certificates.
This is one of those campaigns where I always think, 'How on EARTH does this even still exist?'. It is so archaic, that I would have assumed it was changed years ago.
Well done for taking this on. It may seem like a little thing, but baby steps lead to big changes.
I'm getting married soon, probably before any changes, if any, come in. I have utterly rejected all other parts of marriage which I see as sexist - the giving away, the 'man and wife' crap, the white dress, the male only speeches, taking the man's name etc etc.
What can I do about this? If I scrawl in my mother's and MIL's names and occupations on the certificate will it still be valid? Or will it be the equivalent of a spoiled ballot paper? Does anyone know?
Got married in Scotland where the mother and her occupation has always appeared, both very useful pieces of information for historians. In Scotland it's historic, women didn't change their name on marriage (a lot do now, because of English influences) and gravestones always have the wife or mother's 'maiden' name.
There's another campaign, we don't talk about Christian names (for first names) any more so why do we still say 'maiden' name for the name a woman was born with?
VelvetStrider Before you marry you will have to give notice to the Registrar who will ask you for your father's name, not your mother's, and s/he just won't accept anything else. You could lie and say unknown, or you could give a male version of your mother's name, Steven for Susan if you like, and nobody will ever know and the marriage will still be valid, but that's not really much of an alternative; generations from now it will mislead any family researchers who rely on it.
The information on hour certificate will be copied from the form of notice so that is the point when you have to make your mind up.
As for MIL, hold your horses; that's not your call, that's her son's, or her daughter's if yours is a same-sex marriage which you don't say. Up to him or her whether s/he puts the real data down or distorts or denies it.
your certificate not hour certificate damn it but I expect you guessed that.
I've always assumed the reason banks use mothers maiden name as a security is because it's not easy to find out from marriage certificate or similar. Agree mothers name should be on there though.
It is, however, incredibly easy to find out from birth certificate - in fact the information is available from the quarterly indexes, you don't need the actual certificate.
As security info it's not very good.
Our certificate just shows an empty slot where my father's name and occupation should be.
We have our mother's as witnesses so we could get their names on there.
Signed and about to be shared.
Bloody ridiculous that my Fathers/mine/fiances occupation is on it and Mothers name not.
Even more ridiculous that the registrar wanted my ex-husbands name on my 2nd marriage certificate, as I had changed back to my maiden name after divorce! Apparently a deed poll doesn't mean you have changed your name but you can buy a house with that name, start a new bank account, pay bills, register to vote..... WTF?
Our Mothers are on our marriage certificate - we chose them to be our witnesses. We just thought it was a nice way for them to be 'officially' included in our day. Didnt think about it in an equality way, it just made sense that everyone was included and it was a nice thing for them to be asked to do.
Excellent, I started a thread on this when I gave notice of marriage a few months afo.
You have my full support.
As a suggestion for those not yet married, we had our mums as witnesses so their names are on there