Why was the irregular form of marriage, by habit and repute, not abolished in 1939 in Scotland, when all other forms of irregular marriage were?
Here’s an excerpt from the parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Scotland) Bill on March 30th 1939, on its second reading, and the comments of John Colvilee, MP for Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern:
“It may happen to be necessary to establish the marriage of two people who have lived together for many years where it may be difficult, if not impossible, to produce evidence of the actual marriage. In such a case it is useful that the law should provide that account should be taken of what may amount to presumptive evidence of marriage. If the doctrine of marriage by habit and repute were abandoned it would be necessary to make some alternative provision on this point, as is done in all other legal systems. The existing doctrine does, however, meet the situation very well, and on balance it is considered that this form of marriage should be retained.”
The full debate is at www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1939-03-30a.2246.2
Marriage by habit and repute did not disappear in 1939, but was finally abolished in 2006 with the Family Law (Scotland) Act. Marriages deemed to have been contracted before then are still perfectly legal – and believe it or not, in a small number of cases it is in fact still possible to be considered married by habit and repute after 2006.
The civil aspects of marriage registration after 1855 are covered in my book Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry Through Church and State Records. There is a lot of juicy useful stuff inside, from vaccination registers to overseas GRO records of Scots from the late 18th century and more. ScotlandsPeople may provide access to just some of the records created since 1855 – but what were those records, what was the law involved in their generation, how did it change across time, what were the processes people had to go through to register, what were the penalties for failure to do so, what other records exist dealing with Scottish statutory events post 1855 (and pre-1855 in some cases), how did the state deal with illegitimacy, why were doctors furious about the need to create medical certificates, and much, much more. ScotlandsPeople is a handy tool – but it’s only the start of the story…!