September 3: Couples could soon be free to get married on the beach, in a private garden or at sea, according to proposed changes to outdated wedding laws. In the event of another pandemic, marriages could even be celebrated remotely over a video conference link, England and Wales’ Law Commission has suggested, The Guardian reported.
Launching on Thursday, the consultation on changing the “unnecessarily restrictive” marriage regulations in England and Wales also aims to reduce the cost of ceremonies by allowing couples to marry at home or in more modest community venues.
The fundamental rules governing weddings date back to the 1836 Marriage Act and do not reflect the social changes since then.
Prof Nick Hopkins, who oversees family law at the Law Commission, said: “A couple’s wedding day is one of the most important events in their lives, yet the 19th-century laws are not fit for purpose and stop many couples having a wedding that is meaningful and personal to them.
“Our proposals would give couples the freedom to choose the wedding venue they want and a ceremony that is meaningful for them. By doing so, we hope to make the laws that govern weddings reflect the wishes and needs of today’s society.”
The main changes involve allowing couples greater choice over the location of their ceremony and whether they want to marry outdoors.
The Law Commission said: “As the experience of couples wanting to get married during the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, the laws governing how and where couples can marry are outdated and unnecessarily restrictive.”
Many couples had to cancel their planned weddings during lockdown. One of the oddities of the current laws is that only Jewish and Quaker weddings are permitted to take place outdoors.
The Law Commission suggests that weddings should be permitted “on beaches, in parks, in private gardens and on the grounds of current wedding venues”. A wider variety of buildings and even cruise ships could become legitimate venues.
Weddings held remotely over an audio-visual app, for example Zoom, could also be possible in a future pandemic emergency. In case of lockdown, it would be possible for all parties – witnesses, officiant and even the individuals getting married – to be in separate locations and to conduct the wedding entirely remotely.
Couples currently have to choose between a civil or a religious ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. The commission recommends a new legal framework “that could allow non-religious belief organisations (such as humanists) and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings”.
Supporting the changes, the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said: “We want couples from all walks of life to be able to marry and celebrate their love for each other in a way that is meaningful to them.
“That is why we asked the Law Commission to look at the laws around weddings to ensure they better reflect modern society, and we look forward to the outcome of this important consultation.”