COUPLES in England and Wales could soon be able to marry or enter civil partnerships where they wish, under proposals being considered by a review of wedding laws launched last week.
Current legislation requires ceremonies to be held in places of worship, register offices, or buildings licensed by local authorities. The changes would allow them to be held in locations such as marquees, private homes, military sites for service personnel, at sea, or even the open air — something already possible in Scotland.
That would mean a wider range of cheaper alternatives to hiring expensive wedding venues. The sites would, however, all have to meet the existing test of solemnity and dignity.
Launching the two-year investigation by the Law Commission, the Prime Minister said: “The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners. But we can do more to bring the laws on marriage ceremonies up to date and to support couples in celebrating their commitment. As both Home Secretary and Prime Minister, I have been proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage, and to extend civil partnerships to ensure all couples are given the same choices in life. This review will look at how we can ensure marriage keeps pace with modern Britain.”
Initial concerns about marriage laws were first raised in a Law Commission report in 2015, which spoke of inconsistent and highly technical provisions that had lacked fundamental reform since 1836. It suggested that a wider choice could make marriage “both cheap and personal”. The Commission will now work with a wide variety of groups, including religious leaders and others with experience of conducting marriages, to produce a set of recommendations by 2021 for new legislation.
The Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said: “Getting married is a deeply personal decision; so we want couples to have greater choice in how and where they celebrate their commitment. Whilst we will always preserve the dignity of marriage, people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them. This review will look at the red tape and outdated rules around weddings, making sure our laws are fit for modern life.”
Ministers emphasised that the Government recognised the part played by religious services as a preferred option for many couples, and valued the continuing status of the Church of England as the Established Church in England.
Canon Sandra Millar, head of projects and developments at Church House, said: “Our research has shown that being married in a place that has meaning is still important. The moments of waiting to walk down the aisle, standing at the steps, and exchanging timeless vows that can be said only in a church, and turning to walk out of the church as a newly married couple, are cherished.
“Wherever a wedding happens, a local church is always there to offer a welcome and prayers. We continue to believe that a church is the best place for a wedding: many couples don’t realise that they can explore this possibility. You don’t have to be christened, you don’t have to be a churchgoer — just ask, and you might be surprised at the answer.”