Law Commission plans to “modernize” wedding ceremonies will “devalue” the institution, critics say.
The Commission wants to relax the rules on where weddings can take place. In England and Wales this is limited to a place of worship, a register office or an approved venue for civil marriages.
These rules could soon be relaxed so that couples can marry wherever they want as long as the location is deemed safe and dignified.
The commission’s family law commissioner, Professor Nick Hopkins, said: “Current marriage law is not working for many couples. Unnecessary restrictions and outdated regulations mean thousands of people are being denied every year a wedding that means something to them.
“Our reforms for government are designed to protect established practices and the dignity of marriages, while giving couples more choice about where and how to marry.
“There are many precedents for our reforms around the world. By giving couples more control over their marriages and ensuring greater parity for all creeds, the law can support those who want to marry, rather than putting unnecessary barriers in the way.”
But Ciarán Kelly of the Christian Institute accused the commission of being “dismissive” of concerns raised during the consultation process.
He said: “The public wedding ceremony is a deep and solemn celebration of love and commitment. These recommendations devalue the institution, trivialize the marital bond and undermine the dignity of the occasion.
“That the Law Commission would simply turn a deaf ear to such clear opposition to its proposals shows little regard for marriage and for the opinions of the public, including those who support the Christian Institute.”
The Church of England was one of the critics cited in the commission’s report.
Her submission said: “Elsewhere the concept of dignity has been introduced (as in Q.52) as a desirable or essential factor in a marriage ceremony.
“Yet no attempt is made to define the parameters that would protect or promote dignity and, in conversation, members of the Commission said they saw no way to do so.
“This is a classic case of wanting the ends but not the means. Instead, by abdicating all responsibility for allowing marriages to remain dignified, this proposal opens the door to frivolous, attention-seeking behavior and ridiculous which could seriously undermine any idea that a marriage is a dignified and serious occasion in which the state and the public have a stake.
“One need only look at what has happened to the ‘dignity’ of marriages in jurisdictions that impose no requirements limiting venues to see that a kind of competitive absurdity is likely to develop among a small minority of attention-seeking couples trying to outdo each other in extravagant wedding venues.”