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Outdoor beach and park weddings on cards in Britain

19 Jul 2022 / international Print

Beach and park weddings on cards in Britain

A report by Britain’s Law Commission has suggested that weddings could take in a wider variety of settings – such as gardens, beaches, village halls, cruise ships and parks.

“This area of law has long been due an overhaul and the Law Commission’s review of marriage report offers a much-needed opportunity to bring our marriage laws into the 21stcentury,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I Stephanie Boyce this morning.

The Law Commission believes that there is increasing public demand for simpler options, for financial and COVID-backlog reasons.

Humanist weddings

The recommendations include a path to legalising non-religious belief ceremonies, such as humanist weddings, in England and Wales, if permitted by Government.

The Law Commission believes that the reforms will preserve the dignity of weddings, retain important safeguards, and protect the longstanding practices and rules of religious groups.

Under the proposed changes, there will be universal rules for all weddings meaning the different laws for different religious groups and civil weddings would no longer persist.

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.

Couples will also have lower-cost options, such as marrying in their own home or garden, or in modest community venues such as village halls or parks.

The report adds that while cheaper “no frills” options are available in register offices, limited slots can be hard to secure and restrictions can be off-putting and make simpler weddings feel “second-rate”.

'Surprising requirements'

The proposed scheme will also civil weddings to take place on British Ministry of Defence sites, which for most military sites will mean that they can offer same-sex weddings for the first time.

The Commission’s overhaul would bring England and Wales in line with laws in other places including those in Ireland, Scotland and the North.

“Many marriage laws have not been updated since the late 1940s and they set specific and often surprising requirements around how, where and when couples can wed,” said Law Society of England and Wales President I Stephanie Boyce.

“Many couples will be unaware that temporary measures brought in during the height of the pandemic – such as civil ceremonies and civil partnerships taking place outside – have only recently been made permanent.

“Allowing this change means couples have more flexibility and choice on their wedding day, as well as a greater variety of venues with a wider range of officiants.”  

The Commission has made the following proposals:

  • Regulation is focused on the officiant, not the location, allowing civil weddings to be conducted by independent officiants,
  • Enhanced protections against forced and predatory marriage and sham marriages,
  • Framework allows non-religious or religious groups to conduct legally binding weddings.

However, I. Stephanie Boyce warned that the Law Commission should also educate the public about marriage since there is still a belief that cohabitation exists as “common law marriage” in England and Wales.

Legally recognised

Currently, if a couple does not comply with the legal marriage requirements, which may happen with some religious ceremonies, their marriage may not be legally recognised, the Law Commission report also says.

“People often only discover their lack of legal status when their relationship ends, on death or by separation. This means the parties have no legal status or protection and are not counted as married,” it adds.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland