The Law Commission have released their proposals for the Wedding Law Reform.
What does it mean?
At this moment in time – there are no changes to the law. This paper is just a detailed summary of why the law needs to change and the solutions that the Law Commission deems would be the best course of action. Government now have upto 12 months to submit their initial reply, and then the specific details will be debated before any change is set to happen (which could go on to take a year or so longer).
Why does there need to be reform?
In the diverse world we live in, the current marriage law is hugely discriminative against so many couples, and it simply is no longer fit for purpose. Currently, there are only two types of marriage that are wholly legal in England and Wales (the law is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland!)
- A religious marriage that takes place in the Anglican Church
- A civil marriage that takes place in a registry office or in a licensed venue officiated by a Registrar
Many couples that do not fit, or do not choose to fit, into either of these TWO boxes above are currently required to register their marriage at a separate time and place to their wedding ceremony.
What are the proposals?
The Law Commission propose that the best course of action is to regulate and licence the officiant, not the premises. This change will enable couples a far greater choice of, not only who officiates their legal marriage but also where their ceremony will take place.
Wedding licences have been a big expense for venues, so this move is very much intended to allow smaller venues, and even private properties or land to be used for weddings.
Five types of Officiants
The proposal has split officiants into these five groups: (The first two are currently the only two groups of officiants that can conduct legal weddings under the current law)
Register Officers – for civil ceremonies
Anglican Clergy – for religious Christian ceremonies
Nominated Officiants – these will be made up by all other Religious Groups and other non-faith groups such as Humanists.
Maritime Officiants – to allow marriage out at sea
Independent Officiants – these officiants will nominate themselves and will include Independent Celebrants such as myself.
So how will weddings look in the future if these proposals are to be passed?
There would likely be representation for each and every religious group to be able to conduct a legal marriage, with the religious content required by their faith.
Those that do not wish to have a fully religious ceremony in a place of worship, can either arrange for a religious ceremony to take place elsewhere (such as a hotel) or choose to have some of their religious content added to a civil ceremony.
There will be a greater choice of venue, and those smaller venues that could not afford a licence will now be able to offer their premises for the use of weddings.
Couples can choose to have a wedding on private land or property.
There will no longer be a requirement for an “open door policy” at weddings (this was required to allow someone to come in during the ceremony and oppose the marriage – this will be moved to an online access only)
As well as the above, the flexibility of each Officiant will be far greater than it is now;
It is proposed that some religious elements will be allowed into a civil ceremony – so long as the ceremony is still identifiable as a civil marriage. My translation of this is that the rules about music will be dropped and religious readings will now be able to take place in a civil ceremony, but the content and wording around the marriage must use civil wording and not those identifiable as the religious marriage wording.
All Officiants will have the flexibility of officiating a wedding in any location – in summary; Registrars, Members of Clergy, Humanist Celebrants and Independent Celebrants will be able to conduct a legal marriage at smaller venues, in the woods or at your home, as an example of just how amazing this ruling will be!
Photo: Martin Beard Photography Photo: John Woodward Photography
What is the next step?
Now is the time for us all to keep the pressure on, and make sure these proposals are fully considered and passed. It is all of our responsibility to ensure our local MP’s realise how grossly unfair the current law is and to insist that change is required. This is the first step!
When that decision is made – it is time to ensure that all of the proposals put forward by the Law Commission are passed, without exception – for this is the solution that will give couples choice.
One other major issue to point out;
It seems the Law Commission were not instructed to discuss, review or look at any proposals around marriage law pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. This therefore means there will still be an inequality amongst some of us. (For example same sex marriage in church and marriage for non-binery individuals). Whilst this review sees vast progress towards equality, we still have a way to go!
In the meantime … As an Independent Celebrant, I've got your back!
Don’t forget, as an Independent Celebrant I am able to write and perform a very meaningful, beautiful, fun and memorable ceremony for each and every one of you – where and when you wish!
No matter what religion, who you have fallen in love with and who you identify as, I am here for you. With your help we can incorporate parts of your culture, religion and personality into something very special. The only thing missing (currently) is the ability to legally register your marriage for you.
Kelly Hawes Celebrant
Photo: Georgia-Beth Photography