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St. Valentine and the Law

by Dr Carlos Bugeja – Partner

Today is the 14th of February. Many will celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day by giving chocolate, cards, and roses.

But who was the real Valentine and what does he have to do with law?

The legend of St Valentine’s started with one young priest deliberately breaking a law, that enacted by Roman Emperor Claudius II. During his reign, Claudius had decided that single men made better soldiers, for they could focus better. So, he outlawed marriage for young men.

But Valentine would not have it, and continued performing wedding ceremonies in secret.

It is said that Emperor Claudius eventually discovered everything, had Valentine arrested and sentenced to death. During his time in prison, Valentine fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, who used to visit him in prison. It said that prior to his execution, he had signed off a letter to the girl with “from Your Valentine”.

Valentine was martyred on the 14th of February, 270 AD.

Today, a similar blanket marriage ban is unlikely to survive a human rights challenge. In fact, article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that “Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and
to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.”

There is still a margin of appreciation for states to exercise; but the general rule is, marriage bans are discouraged. Certainly, the right to marry is subject to national laws on marriage, including those that make marriage illegal between certain types of people (for example, close relatives), but any restrictions must not be arbitrary and not interfere with the essential principle of the right.

Disclaimer: This article is not to be considered as legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Carlos Bugeja on