From 1 July 2021 until April 2022, approved premises in England and Wales will be able to hold civil wedding and partnership ceremonies outdoors for the first time.

Currently, civil wedding or partnership ceremonies must take place in an approved room or permanent structure. However, from 1 July couples may opt to wed outside at an approved venue.

The changes will be introduced via amendments to the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005. The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 will come into force on 1st July 2021.

The regulations apply only to approved premises. Outdoor weddings will not be permitted on religious premises, except where it is already approved for civil partnership registrations. Another exception is Jewish and Quaker weddings, which for historical reasons may take place outdoors. However, the government has said it will legislate to allow religious marriages to take place outdoors when parliamentary time allows.

Existing approved premises will be permitted to use any outdoor area at the venue for ceremonies and premises will not be required to re-apply for approval, subject to certain conditions.

Ceremonies will be able to take place fully outdoors or under a partially covered structure if this has at least a 50 per cent open area – the same definition used for the smoking ban and covid-19 regulations in England and Wales. 

The location for the ceremony must be “seemly and dignified”. Requirements for public access and signage must also be complied with.

The change has been introduced to allow couples and the wedding industry more flexibility – an announcement likely to be welcome during this time of uncertainty.

Lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “… this change will allow [couples] to celebrate… the way that they want”.

He also acknowledged the benefit for the wedding industry, adding: “… this step will support the marriage sector by providing greater choice and helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies”.

In autumn, a consultation will consider the practical impact of the changes and to enable a later amending statutory instrument, which will not be time limited.

In February, we reported broader wedding reforms were being considered by the government. A Law Commission report will be published later this year, which will present further reforms for government consideration.

Proposed reforms include offering couples greater flexibility to curate their own ceremonies, allowing ceremonies to take place in a broader range of locations and powers to hold weddings remotely during periods of national emergency.

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