Wedding reform proposals allow humanist legally binding ceremonies

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Wide reform of the regulations governing weddings are being proposed by the Law Commission.

They include allowing humanist and other non-religious celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings and allowing religious content in any ceremony.

Weddings could take place, it suggests, in private gardens, beaches, parks and cruise ships as potential suitable venues.

The Law Commission says current rules are unnecessarily restrictive and do not allow couples to express their beliefs or vision.

At present, the law which has been unchanged since 1836, forces couples to choose between a civil or a religious ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. And they must use a registered building such as a place of worship or licensed secular venue.

Among the proposals, which are out for consultation until December, couples will be able to give notice of their wedding online, rather than in person. And in a similar pandemic, allow weddings to be performed online.

It will also ensure that fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites result in a marriage that the law does not recognise at all. In February, the Appeal Court ruled that an Islamic faith marriage ‘nikah’ was not valid in law, and a separate civil ceremony had to take place as well.

The Law Commission will analyse the responses and publish recommendations in the second half of 2021.

Commentators

Law Commission – Dan Popescu Daniel.popescu@lawcommission.gov.uk / 07784 275513

Professor Nick Hopkins, Family Law Commissioner at the Law Commission:

“A couple’s wedding day is one of the most important events in their lives, yet the 19th century laws are not fit for purpose and stop many couples having a wedding that is meaningful and personal to them.

“Our proposals would give couples the freedom to choose the wedding venue they want and a ceremony that is meaningful for them. By doing so, we hope to make the laws that govern weddings reflect the wishes and needs of today’s society.”

Church of England media office: 020 7898 1326.

“We will study these proposals in more detail and will respond to the consultation in due course. Our research shows that being married in a place that has meaning is still important to couples and their families. The moments of waiting to walk down the aisle, standing at the steps and exchanging timeless vows that can only be said in a church, and turning to walk out of the church as a newly-married couple, are cherished.“

Humanists UK which campaigned for reform of marriage legilsation so that weddings performed by humanist celebrants would be recognised in law

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: “We believe that the Government should bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages as soon as possible, even if only through an interim reform pending the wholescale review. This is because every year of delay over 1,000 couples miss out on having the type of marriage that they want. The Law Commission’s proposals, if they ever come to fruition, will take around three years to do so, or some ten years since the Government first seriously considered humanist marriages during the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act. We cannot see how this further delay can be justified. Notwithstanding this, we will be looking at the proposals closely and responding to them fully in due course.”