Marriage law changes and recommendations – how will they affect your ceremony?
Since 1836, to legally marry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, couples have had to have their ceremony in either a place of worship, a register office, or a venue approved for civil weddings. Essentially, couples have had to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Alongside this, couples cannot generally marry outdoors, except in the grounds of approved premises. Understandably, these limitations have limited the options couples have as to where to host their marriage ceremony and prevented couples getting married in a place that is meaningful to them, or have a ceremony reflecting their own wishes and beliefs.
From July 2019, the Law Commission of England and Wales began conducting their full law reform project on marriage laws. On the 19th July 2022, the Commission published their final report. In the report, the commission outlined recommendations to reform marriage laws, proposing alternatives to provide couples with a wider choice of venues and the logistics of ceremonies.
This reform would stretch the current list of Permitted Venues to include gardens, beaches, forests, parks, village halls and cruise ships. This follows the increasing public demand for simpler, personal and more affordable ceremony options, particularly as household finances come under pressure. The changes would also allow for more personalised content, such as the vows, rituals and songs chosen.
The recommendations for reform include amendments to the legal requirements of marriage:
- The Preliminaries, through which legal authorisation for a wedding to take place is obtained;
- The Ceremony, including where a wedding can be held and the legal requirements as to the content of the ceremony; and
- Registration of the marriage.
The recommendations are:
- Officiants: Every wedding would be overseen by an authorised officiant, who would have the same legal duties regardless of whether it is a civil or religious ceremony
- Universal rules for all weddings: with very few exceptions, the same rules would apply to all weddings, meaning little differentiation between religious and civil wedding rules
- Location of the wedding: As part of the reform, weddings will be able to take place in more areas outside than the law currently permits, this means couples will be able to have weddings in smaller and cheaper venues, and in other places that are important to them. However, the location will need to be agreed by the Officiant
- Respecting beliefs and offering greater choice: Couples will be able to have a wedding ceremony that reflects their values and beliefs. This will include having a religious ceremony in a venue other than a place of worship and without having to incorporate prescribed words into the ceremony. If permitted by Government, non-religious belief organisations would be able to conduct weddings on the same basis as religious organisations.
- Convenience: Couples will be able to give notice of their intended wedding online, and to choose the registration district where they are then interviewed by a registration officer. Notice of upcoming weddings will be published online, so that the information is accessible to the wider community.
- Safeguards: the reforms enhance protections against forced and predatory marriage, and maintain the protection against sham marriages.
It is now for Government to consider and respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations. If the Government accepts the Law Commission’s recommendations, the bill can then be drafted and introduced into Parliament with the aim of the amendments becoming law.
Minimum Marriage Age
On the 28th April 2022, the legal age of marriage and civil partnerships raised to 18 years old in England and Wales. Previously couples could marry at 16 years old with parental consent, or 17.
The new law also applies to cultural or religious marriages that are not registered with the couples’ local council. However, the change does not apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the minimum age will stay at 16 years old. In Northern Ireland, couples will need parental consent to marry at 16 years old, where as in Scotland they will not.