Marriage has long been viewed as a prime location of gender inequality, and for good reason. A radical view argues that equality can be achieved only by removing marriage from the public sphere and replacing the legal aspects by contracts between the parties. The English law on formation of marriage operates under an historical shadow projected from the period when the Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 gave the Church of England a 'virtual monopoly' over the procedures for the solemnisation and recording of marriages. The alternative approach to the 'continental' solution modifies and expands the present English system. This rests on an appreciation of the role of marriage in demonstrating approval and acceptance of relationships and of local communities within the wider community represented by the state. Gender equality is promoted by the civil law extending its reach to cover as many unions in which the parties consider themselves 'married' as possible.