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This briefing paper deals with where couples may get married in England and Wales, with a very short summary of the position in Scotland. It includes information about new regulations which, from 1 July 2021 to 5 April 2022, enable couples to marry at some outdoor locations. This paper does not deal with restrictions on marriage and civil partnership ceremonies and receptions which are in place as a consequence of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Gov.UK has information and guidance on the current position, which is updated from time to time, including:

Where can a marriage take place?

In England and Wales, the regulation of marriage is based largely on the building in which the relevant marriage takes place. Marriage must usually take place in a register office; a building that has been approved for the purposes of civil marriage by the local authority of the area in which the building is situated – “approved premises” – including, for example, hotels and stately homes; a building of the Church of England or the Church in Wales; a building that has been registered for the purposes of religious marriage other than in the Church of England or Church in Wales; or a naval, military or air force chapel.

There are some exceptions including:

  • from 1 July 2021 until 5 April 2022 (at least to begin with) civil ceremonies may take place outdoors in the grounds of approved premises. The Government intends to undertake a public consultation later in 2021 to consider in detail the practical impacts of this new policy and to lay a further instrument in Spring 2022;
  • due mainly to historical reasons, couples marrying according to the rites and ceremonies of the Jews or Society of Friends may marry anywhere, including outdoors;
  • marriage can sometimes take place at the residence of someone who is housebound, detained or terminally ill.

There are various conditions surrounding the couple’s choice of venue.

Law Commission project

Background

At present, non-religious belief marriage ceremonies (such as humanist marriage ceremonies) do not have legal force and the parties must have an additional ceremony (for example, at a register office) for the marriage to be legally valid.

In 2014, the Ministry of Justice conducted a public consultation on whether the law should be changed to permit marriage according to the usages of non-religious belief organisations. The majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of changing the law to allow such marriage ceremonies to take place in unrestricted locations, including outdoors.   However, the Coalition Government decided that the legal and technical requirements of marriage ceremonies and registration in England and Wales should be considered more generally before, or at the same time as, making a decision on the issue of permitting legally valid non‑religious belief marriage ceremonies.

Law Commission scoping review and consultation

In December 2014, the Coalition Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales. The Law Commission published a scoping paper in December 2015 and concluded that the law governing how and where couples in England and Wales can marry “is badly in need of reform”.

The Law Commission has since consulted on its provisional proposals for a new scheme intended, among other things, to:

  • allow weddings to take place anywhere, including outdoors;
  • offer couples greater flexibility over the form their wedding ceremonies will take, enabling them, if they desire, to use a variety of ceremonies (religious and non-religious) to mark their weddings;
  • simplify the process and remove unnecessary red tape;
  • provide a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations (such as humanists) and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings.

One of the features of the new scheme is that regulation would be based on the officiant rather than on the building in which the wedding takes place.

After analysing responses, the Law Commission intends to publish its final report, with recommendations for Government, at the end of 2021.

Scotland

In Scotland, a religious or belief marriage may take place anywhere. A civil marriage may take place in a registration office or at any place agreed between the registration authority and the couple. There are rules relating to who may solemnize marriages.


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