Outdoor civil weddings and civil partnerships to be made permanent
Temporary measures brought in during the pandemic will be made permanent on 6 April
Temporary measures introduced during the pandemic to permit outdoor weddings at certain licensed venues in England and Wales will be made permanent after the change received overwhelming support from the public, faith groups and wedding industry.
Prior to last summer, civil ceremonies at licensed wedding venues had to take place indoors or within a permanent outdoor structure, such as a bandstand. Marrying couples will now continue to be able to have the whole ceremony outside in the venue’s grounds – providing them with greater flexibility and choice, as well as providing certainty and boosting the recovery of the wedding industry.
Ministers will lay legislation today (15 March) to legalise outdoor civil weddings and partnerships indefinitely. The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 will come into force on the 6 April 2022.
The regulations apply only to ‘approved premises’ under the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005, as amended – the changes cannot enable outdoor weddings to take place on religious premises or in outdoor areas that are not part of the grounds of approved premises.
Existing approved premises will not be required to re-apply for approval, subject to certain conditions.
A government consultation found 96 per cent of respondents backed making the change permanent, while 93 per cent also supported the proposal to permit outdoor religious ceremonies in the grounds of places of worship, subject to this being permitted by the respective religious bodies.
For the moment, with the exception of Jewish and Quaker weddings, which for historical reasons can already take place outdoors, legal religious weddings will continue to take place in certified places of worship which are also registered for marriage, or churches and chapels of the Church of England or Church in Wales.
Religious groups who responded to the consultation noted that while there was no theological obligation to conduct a wedding within the curtilage of a church, these changes must be permissive in nature, and existing safeguards to protect religious freedoms need to remain.
Reforms to allow religious ceremonies to take place in the grounds of religious buildings will be made in due course; the government said it will put forward a Legislative Review Order, as such a change would require an amendment to primary legislation.
Graham Coy, family law partner at Wilsons Solicitors, welcomed the development. He commented: “It's no secret that weddings are any expensive venture, so this positive change will allow for weddings to become more affordable, as well as allowing couples to have more creative options in holding their marital ceremony”.
He suggested: “It's likely that we'll be seeing more couples marrying, particularly younger couples, who previously felt that a wedding was an expensive prospect far out of reach – which will certainly be good news for the wedding industry. With this in mind, it's vital that couples don't act hastily, and fully understand what marriage means for their finances, lifestyle and wellbeing before taking the big step”.
“In principle though, why shouldn’t couples be able to choose where to get married? Health and safety measures need to be in place and the ceremony must be properly undertaken so that it is legally recognised, but subject to that, people’s autonomy should be respected,” said Coy.
He concluded: “Alongside "no-fault divorce" laws being introduced on 1st April, where separating couples will no longer have to assign blame to each other in court during a divorce, it's clear that the Government are rightfully taking effective steps to bringing divorce law into the 21st century."
An ongoing Law Commission report into marriage laws is due to be published in July and the government has said it will carefully consider its recommendations. The report is aimed at exploring how to modernise and improve marriage law into a “simple, fair and consistent legal structure”. The government said this will include consideration of widening the locations where people may marry and whether more types of weddings should be legalised.