Existing marriage law in England and Wales has been criticized as ‘stuck in time’
Couples could soon be able to wed on beaches, in gardens and on cruise ships under new proposals to overhaul current rules on where weddings can take place.
Existing marriage laws have been described as “stuck in time” and not working for most couples, according to the Law Commission, which advises the government on law reform.
The Law Commission is now proposing to lift current restrictions and recommend that weddings can take place anywhere, in what would be the biggest overhaul of marriage regulations in England and Wales since the 19th century .
He says “unnecessary regulation” prevents couples from getting married in a place that is special to them or having a ceremony that reflects their wishes and beliefs.
As a result, he warns that many couples choose to celebrate in ways the law does not recognize, with some marrying overseas and others paying for two ceremonies – one that is legal and one that matches. to their personal values.
What would the changes mean?
Under current laws, couples must choose between a civil or religious ceremony and perform their marriage in a registered building, with different rules in place between religious groups and for civil services.
The Law Commission proposes that weddings can instead take place in “any place that is safe and dignified”. This could include family homes, gardens, beaches, forests, parks, party halls and cruise ships.
The celebrant, not the location, would be regulated, and couples would have more freedom to customize the content of their ceremony.
Under the proposed changes, couples could marry in “smaller and cheaper” venues following a growing demand for more affordable personal options, especially as the cost of living crisis and the ” Covid backlog” of marriages persist.
A set of universal rules would apply to religious and civil marriages, with some exceptions, allowing for fairer treatment for all faiths. This could include legalizing ceremonies of non-religious belief, such as humanistic weddings, if the government allows it.
It also recommends that special measures be taken in the event of a national emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, which prevents couples from complying with requirements, such as allowing witnesses to attend weddings remotely.
The Law Commission says it intends to offer couples more freedom while preserving the dignity of marriages and protecting the traditions of religious groups.
He adds that the proposals would also strengthen protections against forced and predatory marriages and maintain protection against sham marriages.
Professor Nick Hopkins, Family Law Commissioner at the Law Commission, said: “Current marriage law is not working for many couples. Unnecessary restrictions and outdated regulations mean thousands of people are denied a marriage that makes sense to them every year.
“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 across creeds, the law can support those who want to marry, rather than putting unnecessary barriers in the way.”
When could the proposals come into force?
Humanists UK said the proposals would take a few years to be implemented if accepted by the government.
However, he said the government could immediately recognize humanist marriages through secondary legislation.
Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said: “We urge the government to embrace this now and give couples in England and Wales the freedom to choose a marriage that matches their beliefs and values.
“For thousands of couples, it is extremely frustrating that something as uncontroversial as the legal recognition of humanistic marriages has been delayed for nearly a decade.”
A Department of Justice spokeswoman added: “We have asked the Law Commission to review our current marriage laws to ensure this important institution continues to reflect modern society.
“We will carefully review these recommendations and respond to them in due course.”