This Commons Library briefing paper provides general information about how the law applies to cohabitants, the number of cohabiting couples, and about the Law Commission’s proposals for reform.
Documents to download
Marriage venues (865 KB, PDF)
This briefing paper deals with where couples may usually get married in England and Wales, with a very short summary of the position in Scotland. It does not deal with the current 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:
- COVID-19: Guidance for wedding and civil partnership receptions and celebrations, updated 12 April 2021 and
- COVID-19: Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships, updated 12 April 2021.
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 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 some exceptions including:
- due mainly to historical reasons, those 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
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.
Law Commission project
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 legally valid non-religious belief 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
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. The Law Commission published its 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”.
Law Commission consultation
On 28 June 2019, the Government announced the launch of a Law Commission review of the law governing how and where marriage can take place in England and Wales.
The Law Commission has 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.
What will happen next?
After analysing the responses, the Commission intends to publish its final report, with recommendations for Government, in the second half of 2021.
Possible interim reform
Separately, the Government has said that it will “accelerate plans to allow civil weddings and civil partnerships to be held outside and will look to implement these through secondary legislation, subject to any necessary consultation”.
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 solemnise marriages.
Documents to download
Marriage venues (865 KB, PDF)
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