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04 April 2016

MP debunks epilepsy marriage myth

A myth surrounding a law about epilepsy and marriage has been debunked by MP Valerie Vaz and her research team.

For many years, some people believed there was a law forbidding people with epilepsy in the United Kingdom to marry, and that this law was not repealed until the 1970s.  This 'fact' was reported by the World Health Organization.

Valerie Vaz MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on epilepsy and researchers confirmed that they have found no such law in the UK.

There was, however, a law passed in 1937, called the Matrimonial Causes Act which stated that a marriage had grounds for annulment if “either party to the marriage was at the time of the marriage …….. subject to recurrent fits of insanity or epilepsy”. 

The then Archbishop of Canterbury spoke out against including epilepsy as grounds for annulment, saying: “It would not be suggested in such a case that that incurable disease [epilepsy] was a ground on which the man could get rid of his wife and send her to an institution and marry someone else.”

It took 34 years before the 1971 The Nullity of Marriage Act removed epilepsy as a ground upon which a marriage could be voidable.

In the light of this research the World Health Organization has edited its fact sheet.