The long awaited consultation paper from The Law Commission on weddings laws has been released today. Here we take a look at what their proposals are, what that means in practise for our community and how we can have our say in the final paper that will be presented to the government.
Today, The Law Commission published their long awaited consultation paper on weddings law. We have been working with the process since its inception in 2015 and have been waiting patiently for its publication this year which has been delayed since the spring due to the pandemic.
Their paper today confirms that which we have known for a long time – that current laws around weddings and marriages are outdated, don’t reflect the needs of our diverse society and need overhauling to provide a much more modern approach. Our current laws began to be shaped a couple of hundred years ago and simply don’t work for our society which has become much more diverse and far more secular than it was then.
As the law stands right now, you can only have a legally recognised marriage if it happens in either a place of worship or building that is registered for the purpose of weddings. Current wedding laws do not allow a wedding to take place outside, not even within the gardens of a building that is registered. Notice of the wedding must be given at either the church or a registrar’s office with no other options available and within the service itself, there can be no inclusion of religious beliefs if it’s a civil service. There are no options for a secular beliefs such as humanists and interfaith ceremonies cannot be facilitated.
In short, it’s extremely restrictive given the glorious diversity of beliefs and traditions we have within our country.
As we are all aware, for our community this has meant our tradition of handfasting is not recognised legally under current the current laws. We have had to opt for a civil service either at a registrar’s office or licenced building as well as a handfasting ceremony if we wish for a marriage to be legally recognised. This paper and its recommendations on changes to the law has the potential to change that.
Let’s be clear here for a moment. This isn’t a change to the laws around weddings yet, but it is a recommendation to the government to take this seriously and make changes to allow people to celebrate their marriage in ways that are meaningful to them.
Their suggestions include being able to give notice in different districts to the one in which you live and the ability to register online with a visit to the registrar separately, the legality of the marriage depending on the officiant rather than the place, being able to get married outside and clarifying in simple terms what actually makes a marriage valid. All of which are positive things for our community and in real terms move us closer to being able to have legally recognised Pagan weddings.
Their recommendations look to solve problems around inconsistent and complex regulations, costly and unnecessary regulations and the unfair and restrictive laws that restrict the ways in which people can get legally married. They do not include the duties of the Church of England or the Church in Wales with regards to marriages or the introduction of universal civil marriage in their review. Nor do they make any recommendations about the groups of people who can solemnise marriages and whether that should be expanded.
These are not their final recommendations to the government either. They are now opening their consultation up to the public for the last part of their work before their recommendations go to the government. You now have the chance for your voice to be heard on this subject and I urge you to take the opportunity to do that before the window closes on 3rd December 2020 so that we can ensure the views of our community are taken into account.
You can find the full consultation paper, the summary or the at-a-glance guide at the links below and you can take part in the consultation here:
I really hope you’ll take the time to participate. This is an important moment for our community as well as others whose current needs around marriage aren’t what they would wish for. We need to come together and have our say.