Marriage banns, also called the banns of marriage, serve as a formal announcement of intent to marry. By tradition, they are called in many Christian churches, including those administered by the Church of England and Catholic churches. Depending on the nation, banns may be used instead of a wedding license, a loophole exploited by some same sex couples, and many churches require that they be read before they will hold a wedding. This practice is rooted in centuries of Christian tradition, and for many devout couples, it is an important part of the wedding process.
In order to be considered valid, marriage banns must be read or called during services on three Sundays before the wedding in the parish church of the bride and the groom. If the wedding is being held outside the parish of the bride or groom, they must be read in that church as well. The banns are considered valid for three months after the last reading. Typically, they state the name and parish of both bride and groom, and indicate that individuals with objections to the marriage should make those objections known before the wedding day. The religious official calling the banns will also indicate how many times they have been read.
In the early church, marriage between members had to be approved both by the parents of the prospective couple and the church itself. The banns indicated formal church approval of the marriage. They were also used to root out illegal marriages, such as those held between people who were too closely related or already married. The practice of reading the banns in all parishes concerned ensured that anyone who objected to the marriage would have ample opportunity to do so before the actual day of the wedding.
In general, marrying without calling the banns makes a marriage illicit, but not invalid. Some sects have considered doing away with marriage banns, in an effort to encourage couples to marry in church, as modern couples sometimes find the banns restrictive. Others view them as an important step in the rite of passage that marriage represents, and insist that banns be read before couples are married. Couples outside the church who wish to marry in a specific parish church or cathedral may be required to have them read, so the couple must make sure to inquire about this when making wedding arrangements.