“The main law which governs marriage… has failed to keep pace with modern life” says the Law Commission in publishing its consultation paper on reforming the law on weddings, which contains its proposals to put in place a comprehensive new legislative scheme to update the law governing each aspect of the process of getting married.
The present law governing marriage dates from 1836 and tightly regulates how and where marriages can take place. Couples must choose between a religious or a civil ceremony, with the wedding taking place either in a place of worship or a licenced secular venue. Outdoor weddings, even in the garden of a licenced venue, are prohibited.
If a wedding does not meet the legal requirements, then the couple is at risk of their marriage not being legally recognised. This was the issue in the much publicised case of Akhter v Khan, heard in the Court of Appeal earlier this year, where the couple had been through an Islamic religious ceremony, or nikah, but not a civil ceremony and it was therefore held that they had a ‘non-marriage’. Like in Akhter v Khan, it is often only when a relationship breaks down that the lack of legal status to a marriage is discovered, leaving the parties with no legal redress or protection.
In order to modernise and improve wedding law, the Law Commission has put forward a number of proposals including:
- Allowing weddings to take place outdoors and in a wider variety of buildings.
- Enabling couples to use a variety of ceremonies, both religious and non-religious, to mark their weddings.
- Simplifying the process of getting married by allowing couples to complete the initial stage of giving notice online or by post.
- Providing a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations, such as Humanists and/or independent celebrants, to conduct legally binding weddings.
The consultation opened yesterday and closes on 3 December 2020. Responses can be submitted using the online response form, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to Weddings Team, Law Commission, 1st Floor, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AG.