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England and Wales

Where can a marriage take place?

In England and Wales, marriage must normally take place in a register office; approved premises; 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 various conditions surrounding the couple’s choice of venue.

Labour Government proposals for change

Proposals by the Labour Government to give couples a greater choice of where to marry, as part of a more general reform of civil registration, did not proceed.

Coalition Government consultation on humanist marriage ceremonies

In 2014, the Coalition Government consulted on whether the law should be changed to permit legally valid non-religious belief marriage ceremonies (such as humanist marriage ceremonies), alongside religious and civil ceremonies.   The consultation asked for views on a number of issues, including where such belief marriages, if allowed, should be permitted to take place.

The majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of changing the law to allow legally valid non-religious belief marriage ceremonies to take place, in unrestricted locations.  

However, the Coalition Government considered that a number of complex issues had been raised which had implications for marriage solemnization more broadly. For example, the Government was aware that allowing only non-religious belief marriages to take place in unrestricted locations might be seen as unfair.

Law Commission review

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 agreed to carry out an initial scoping review of marriage law.

In December 2015, the Law Commission published a scoping paper and concluded that the law governing how and where couples in England and Wales can marry “is badly in need of reform”. The Commission considered that it would not be appropriate to legislate solely for non-religious belief organisations, as this would create further anomalies.

With regard to the location of marriage ceremonies, the Law Commission noted the demand for marriages to be conducted in a wider range of locations, including outdoors and at home. The Law Commission considered that providing for a wider range of venues for marriage would allow the location of the wedding to be “both cheap and personal”.  

In the October 2018 Budget, the Government announced that, in connection with promoting greater choice of wedding venues, it had asked the Law Commission to propose options for “a simpler and fairer system to give modern couples meaningful choice”.

On 28 June 2019, the Government launched a Law Commission review of the law governing how and where marriage can take place in England and Wales. The review will seek to provide recommendations for a reformed law of weddings that allows for greater choice within a simple, fair, and consistent legal structure.

The Government said that the review “could open up opportunities for civil ceremonies at sea, in private homes or military sites for service personnel”.

The Law Commission intends to conduct a public consultation and expects that the detailed review, including a final report, will last two years.

Possible interim reform

Separately, the Government is exploring what can be done to deliver interim reform, by way of secondary legislation subject to any necessary consultation, to allow outdoor locations for civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies.

Scotland

In Scotland there is a wider choice of venues for marriage. Marriage can generally take place anywhere agreed with the celebrant. Scottish law also provides for the solemnisation of non-religious belief marriages.

 


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