Still husband and wife, not just spouses

Some people are saying that The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, as reported back by the Select Committee will remove husband and wife from the Marriage Act and people will just legally be spouses.

This is incorrect.

The Marriage Act 1955 currently refers to husbands and wives in two main sections, and both are unaffected by the Bill. The first is S31(3) which says:

During the solemnisation of every such marriage each party must say to the other—

  • (a)“I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife or husband”; or

  • (b)words to similar effect; or

  • (c)in the case of the solemnisation of a marriage in accordance with the rules and procedures of a specified body that require different words to be used as a marriage vow than those set out in paragraph (a), those words.

Again, this section is totally unchanged by the bill. The requirement to refer wife or husband (or similiar words) is unchanged.

The other section is s33(2) which is about marriages before the Registrar.

During the solemnisation of every such marriage each party to it shall declare:

I solemnly declare that I do not know of any impediment to this marriage between me AB and CD, And shall say to the other party: I call on the people present here to witness that I, AB, take you, CD, to be my legal wife (or husband), or words to similar effect.

This section is also unchanged.

In a section to the Act on forbidden marriages, there is a schedule of people whom a man can not marry and a schedule of people whom a woman can not marry. The two separate lists are now combined into one, so rather than saying you can not marry your wife’s mother or husband’s father it now says your spouse’s parent.  No big deal. This change is only to the schedule of forbidden marriages and is not a change to the main Act which still refers to husband and wife.

The Bill does make what is called consequential amendments to 15 other acts, which for the sake of convenience the term spouse is used.

The term husband is actually used in a total of 67 Acts of Parliament. It remains in the Marriage Act, and remains in the vast majority of Acts. It is not being removed from the Marriage Act, and it is not being removed from the law books. All that is happening in in a few Acts the term spouse is being used because it is more convenient.

And you know what – the term “spouse” is already used in 136 Acts of Parliament!

So no the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill does not remove the term “husband and wife” from the law books. It doesn’t remove it from the Marriage Act. It doesn’t introduce the term spouse into the law as a replacement – the term is already used in 136 Acts of Parliament. This issue is a red herring.

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