Outdated wedding laws need to change

two women in wedding dresses in the woods with a celebrant


In an article earlier this year there was discussion and praise aimed towards the Government's plans to allow outdoor weddings to be made permanent. The article also highlighted the eagerly awaited Law Commission report into marriage laws, which was due to be published in July.

Now it has been published and we have had some time for the dust to settle, Kate Van Rol, Barrister at 4PB has looked into these recommendations, "Are wedding laws at present 'confusing, outdated and restrictive' as the Commission suggest, or would the implementation of their suggestions trivialise weddings and commercialise the ceremony?". Kate continues... 

It seems that whilst these concerns may be considered valid to some, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives when it comes to changing marriage laws. The Commission recommends a new system focussing on a marriage officiant responsible for the ceremony, rather than the building. As expected, this would permit more outdoor venues for ceremonies – but the reach is further than we had anticipated, including possible venues such as gardens, beaches, forests, parks and cruise ships. This means that soon-to-be-weds will be able to get their creative juices flowing even further when planning the ceremony of their dreams. They will be able to wed at a venue which holds more meaning to them as a couple.

couple signing the register

There are many positives to this, based around five principles for reform:
1. Certainty and simplicity;
2. Fairness and equality;
3. Protecting the state's interest;
4. Respecting individuals' wishes and beliefs; and
5. Removing any unnecessary regulation, so as to increase the choice and lower the cost of wedding venues for couples.

The key parts of our current wedding laws date back to 1836, and the Commission suggests that it is time to overhaul and modernise these laws. This would also place English laws in line with other countries including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

But what about the concerns that weddings will be trivialised? Well, the Commission suggest that there would still be enough safeguards in place to preserve the dignity of weddings and the longstanding practices and rules of religious groups, as we know them. There are still certain processes that marrying couples must follow in order for their ceremony to be legally valid and all marriages need to be entered in the marriage register, which must be signed by both parties, two witnesses and any individual conducting the ceremony. It's vital that the ceremony be conducted by an individual (or in the presence of an individual) who is authorised to register marriages in the district. It's important to note that if that person isn't authorised to register marriages, the person who is registering the marriage must sign instead.

two grooms blue suit embracing

Additionally, the Commission believes that the reforms would enhance protections against forced and predatory marriages while maintaining existing protections against sham marriages.

The new laws would also allow for a religious ceremony led by an interfaith minister, meaning the ceremony could contain aspects of both parties' beliefs, should they differ. This, in fact, strengthens the importance that a wedding ceremony can have, and allows a greater respect to the individuals involved.

For all couples considering marriage, more choice in how and where to hold their ceremony is certainly a big positive. While many may hurry into holding their wedding ceremonies (particularly after two years of weddings being postponed during the pandemic), it is still important to consider that marriage comes with legally binding financial consequences and expectations. Marriage should absolutely be a positive step in many couples' lives, but it's also a decision that should be taken seriously and not rushed into with haste.

If you are interested in this report, you can view it in full here: https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/weddings/

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