The Law Commission’s recommendations for wedding law reform and what it means for couples in England and Wales

The Law Commission’s recommendations for wedding law reform and what it means for couples in England and Wales

The Marriage Laws in England and Wales have been under review by the Law Commission since 2015. On the 19th of July 2022, the Law Commission published their recommendations for changes needing to be made to these laws that will allow legally binding marriages and civil partnerships to become much more accessible and inclusive for all. Top UK wedding planning resource, Guides for Brides, have been following these proposed changes since the start and have had key involvement in the various consultation stages. Here, they break down what the law changes will mean for couples wanting to get married in England and Wales.

Why is the Law Commission recommending the rules for weddings be changed?

Weddings in England and Wales are currently governed by the Marriage Act of 1949. This is a complex law with many central elements dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the rules stated in the Act have become outdated in our ever growing and diverse society and the way couples want to celebrate their wedding has changed significantly. The Law Commission wants to bring the rules for weddings up to date with current society, making weddings more accessible and inclusive as well as giving couples more freedom to choose the wedding they want.

What is the Law Commission recommending for wedding laws?

The Law Commission is recommending that the wedding laws in England and Wales need changing “from the foundations up”. The current regulations have many unnecessary restrictions for couples who want to get married, including a regulation on where these marriage or civil partnership ceremonies can take place. The Law Commission wants to give greater freedom to couples, giving them more choice about where they get married, the type of ceremony they can have and who can officiate that important moment.

In short, it is being proposed that the system changes from the venue being licensed for weddings to the officiant being licensed. The change would bring England and Wales’ marriage laws in line with the laws in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey.

As well as this, the proposed changes would make the laws around getting married much more inclusive and accessible. The law would become universal. This would mean that (with a few exceptions) all weddings, whether a civil ceremony, religious or interfaith, would fall under the same laws.

What are the benefits for couples?

The Law Commission is looking to reform marriage laws so that all couples wanting to form a marriage or civil partnership will be given equal freedoms to decide how they get married and where the ceremony takes place. This goes for civil weddings as well as religious and (if the Government allows them to conduct marriage ceremonies) non-religious belief groups too.

The key benefits can be presented in 6 key points:

  1. Convenience: In the preliminary stages of marriage, couples will be able to give notice of their intent to marry online and then be able to choose where they will be interviewed by the registrar. Those wanting an Anglican wedding will still be able to go through this process and have their Banns read.

  2. Publicity: Upcoming weddings will be published online. This will make notice of these weddings much more accessible to the wider community.

  3. Respecting beliefs: Religious and interfaith couples will be able to have a wedding ceremony that respects their joint and individual beliefs. There are various ways the Law Commission suggests this will be able to happen and you can read them in the “at a glance” summary

  4. Choice: Those wishing to be married will have greater freedoms in choosing where the ceremony takes place. This will include settings that aren’t currently approved venues, such as local parks or even in the couple’s home.

  5. New options: Celebrants that are not affiliated with any religious or non-religious belief group (known as Independent Celebrants), would be able to conduct a civil marriage ceremony under the proposed changes.

  6. Certainty: The changes proposed would result in less weddings being conducted that aren’t recognised by law. Plus, the consequences of not complying with the required formalities will be much clearer.

When will this change happen?

We all know law reform takes time. No fault divorce was passed in 2020 and took until April 2022 to be confirmed into law. This proposal for the reformations of marriage law has been in progress since 2015, and while there were some delays due to the pandemic, the final stages of the process are now in sight. The wedding sector is expecting an interim response in January 2023. However, we cannot be certain as to how long it will take for any changes to be passed and confirmed into law. The wedding industry is anticipating that this will be most relevant for couples planning to marry in 2024/25.