17:46, June 28 80 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-28 17:46:06
Rules banning outdoor weddings face shake-up, May announces

Couples in England and Wales may be given the option of tying the knot at sea, in the woods or even at home after a review of outdated marriage laws was kicked off by the prime minister.

Theresa May announced that the Law Commission would carry out a two-year review of marriage rules, which at present require weddings to be held in a place of worship or another licensed building.

“The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners. But we can do more to bring the laws on marriage ceremonies up to date and to support couples in celebrating their commitment,” she said.

The Law Commission published a report in December 2015 that raised concerns about the inconsistency of marriage laws, which have not faced wholesale reform since 1836.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, said: “Whilst we will always preserve the dignity of marriage, people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them.

“This review will look at the red tape and outdated rules around weddings – making sure our laws are fit for modern life.”

The Law Commission will consult with faith groups and other stakeholders, and produce recommendations in 2021.

The announcement was first mooted by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, at the budget last autumn, but Downing Street has highlighted a series of policy reforms in recent days, as May tries to show she has a legacy beyond her Brexit travails.

The initial Law Commission scoping review of wedding venues was commissioned by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, five years ago, and found that a wider choice could make marriage “both cheap and personal”.

But the government’s response then was to warn that a review would throw up complex wider issues. In particular, there were concerns about providing equal treatment for religious and secular ceremonies.

And the issue continued to be left on one side as the government was consumed with Brexit. The then justice secretary, Dominic Raab, said in September 2017: “Now is not the right time to develop options for reform to marriage law.”

May has only now chosen to commission the next part of the reform process, as her three-year premiership draws to a close. “This review will look at how we can ensure marriage keeps pace with modern Britain,” she said.

A wider range of venues is already available in Scotland. In England and Wales, the choice is governed by the Marriage Act 1949, which says the ceremony must take place in a narrow range of premises including a church or register office or an approved venue such as a hotel.

The law could be changed to allow weddings to take place outdoors, or in temporary structures such as marquees – but a final decision to press ahead will be left to May’s successor.

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