Since May this year, there have been changes to the way marriages are registered. Couples no longer sign the register on the wedding day, instead they receive their wedding certificate after the event. For the first time, those certificates can carry the names of four parents, meaning that the newlyweds’ mothers can also be named. Beyond this, other changes are in the pipeline as a result of the Law Commission’s reporting into the general updating of the laws pertaining to the formation of marriages. A final report is due by the end of the year. The project’s aim was to consider how to update the current law, much of which derives from the 185 year old Marriage Act of 1836, supplemented in places by measures from the Church of England.
An outline of the provisional proposals has been made public. The recommendations will address a number of the inconsistencies and anachronisms that presently exist between religious and civil ceremonies. Changes are proposed to the residence and waiting requirements that have made it a challenge for those who wish to get married in an area that they do not live and which have also made it hard for those coming from overseas to get married here. Notice of intention to marry is expected to be published online, doing away with the need to have banns read in church. The changes are intended to focus on the eligibility of those looking to marry, and help protect the vulnerable from forced marriage.
The major change that most couples are likely to see is the freedom to get married in a much wider variety of locations than at present. There will be a move away from the significance of where the wedding occurs, focusing instead on regulating those who may conduct and officiate wedding ceremonies. Whilst many couples of faith will still choose a wedding in a religious building, the proposals suggest that ceremonies could occur anywhere (including in the UK territorial waters) as long as the marriage officiant considers the venue to have sufficient dignity. This greater freedom and choice is likely to bring business opportunities for currently unlicensed venues to host weddings, instead of just wedding receptions. It should also remove the need for some couples to have a civil ceremony before a religious one, as has been necessary for many outside the Church of England.
Other changes are likely to include doing away with requirements to conduct some (but not all) marriage ceremonies with open doors, to allow religious and cultural references in civil ceremonies and to create greater consistency between the words used in civil and religious ceremonies. With the backlog of weddings created by Covid, these proposed changes are likely to be welcomed by couples and wedding-related businesses alike.