Reform wedding laws

Reform wedding laws

Page 10 of 28: Make marriage fairer for all people of all religions and beliefs.

Wedding law in England and Wales is badly out of date.

We campaign for marriage to be equally open to all, regardless of religion or belief.

Time for one wedding law for all.

In England and Wales, different laws apply depending on whether a wedding is Anglican, Jewish, Quaker, another religion or not religious at all (a civil wedding or partnership).

This is unfair, confusing and absurd.

Most religious weddings must be held in a registered place of worship, while civil weddings and partnerships must take place in approved premises. Jewish and Quaker weddings can take place anywhere.

This system leads to inequality. Members of religions which don't have fixed places of worship, or don't use their places of worship for weddings, are disadvantaged. And members of nonreligious communities such as Humanism have no way of getting legally married according to their philosophical beliefs.

The process for a place of worship to register itself for marriage is much cheaper than for approved premises for civil ceremonies. This in turn contributes to the cost of civil marriages and partnerships.

Over 80% of opposite-sex marriages in England and Wales in 2019 were civil marriages. But only 16% of recognised wedding venues in England and Wales can hold civil marriages. The remaining 84% are religious venues.

While approved premises for civil weddings and partnerships must by law hold ceremonies for same-sex couples, this is not the case for places of worship. In 2022, only 2% of places of worship were registered for same-sex weddings. This considerably reduces the options for same-sex couples. Whereas opposite-sex weddings are in slow decline, same-sex weddings are increasing.

UPDATE: The Law Commission has now made its final recommendations on reforming wedding law on England and Wales. Please write to your MP in support of the recommendations...

Unregistered religion-only 'marriages'

The complexity of marriage law may contribute to the rise in couples who have religious 'wedding' ceremonies that are not legally-binding.

A signification proportion of Muslim couples are in an Islamic 'nikah' union lacking the full legal rights and protections of a recognised marriage.

Unregistered marriages can undermine women's rights in particular. If a woman in a nikah is 'divorced' suddenly, or against her wishes, she can be left homeless and without any money or assets.

The situation is made worse by sharia councils or 'courts' which dispense religious rulings on Islamic marriage, child custody and divorce. These are not courts of law but there are concerns some Muslim women, especially those not born in the UK or unable to speak English, perceive them as having real legal authority.

Sharia councils leave children vulnerable and discriminate openly against women. To seek a religious divorce a woman must gain permission from these almost entirely male councils, and there are reports of women being denied this request even in cases where they have faced abuse.

Reforming wedding laws will not solve these problems completely. But making wedding laws simpler and fairer can encourage couples to gain the legal protections of a registered marriage.

Take action!

1. Write to your MP

Tell your MP to support the Law Commission's recommendations for wedding reform.

2. Share your story

Tell us why you support this campaign, and how you are personally affected by the issue. You can also let us know if you would like assistance with a particular issue.

3. Join the National Secular Society

Become a member of the National Secular Society today! Together, we can separate religion and state for greater freedom and fairness.

Latest updates

Couple holding hands

NSS: don’t let religious groups discriminate on civil partnerships

Posted: Fri, 16 Aug 2019 09:24

The National Secular Society has warned against allowing religious groups to host opposite-sex civil partnerships while opting out of hosting same-sex ones in response to a government consultation.

The government has proposed letting religious groups register their premises for "either same-sex or opposite-sex civil partnerships, or both" as part of a legal overhaul in England and Wales.

Ministers published plans to allow opposite-sex civil partnerships after the supreme court ruled that restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples was discriminatory last year.

In response the NSS said religious organisations should be able to choose whether or not to host civil partnerships, but not whether to host only opposite-sex or same-sex ones.

The NSS wrote: "A civil partnership is entirely secular in nature. Permitting religious organisations to host opposite-sex civil partnerships but refuse same-sex civil partnerships (or vice versa) would erode equality law and entrench prejudice and bigotry."

The NSS also warned about the potential impact of allowing employers to discriminate against people based on whether they are in opposite-sex or same-sex civil partnerships for religious reasons.

The government has proposed allowing employers to impose occupational requirements against people in either same-sex or opposite-sex civil partnerships.

The exemption would apply "where employment is for the purposes of an organised religion and the requirement is necessary to avoid conflict with the religion". It would be created by amending the Equality Act of 2010.

The NSS advised "extreme caution" in implementing an amendment. It said religious organisations may abuse it to reject people in civil partnerships "even when this has no bearing on their performance in the role".

The NSS welcomed a statement that civil partnership registrars should not be able to refuse to participate in either same-sex or opposite-sex civil partnerships on religious grounds.

NSS campaigns officer Megan Manson said: "Promoting equality between people regardless of sexuality requires the government to uphold consistent rules. Organisations should choose whether they want to register for civil partnerships for all couples or not register for them at all.

"The government is reconsidering the current law on civil partnerships because the UK's top court found it to be discriminatory. Creating loopholes in its new legislation which entrench discrimination of a different kind would therefore be a counter-productive step.

"We also caution against allowing religious groups to discriminate against people in same-sex civil partnerships in employment. Such a provision should not be allowed unless it can be rigorously shown as necessary for the job in question."

The NSS's response also highlighted existing inequality between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in marriage law, which is largely caused by religious groups' ability to discriminate.

There are almost 40,000 places of worship registered for marriage in England and Wales, but approximately only 7,400 civil wedding venues. Only 0.6% of places of worship are registered to conduct same-sex marriages.

Last year the NSS urged the government to reform the marriage laws to secularise the legal institution of marriage.

Photo by Min An from Pexels.

Integrated Communities Action Plan

Government to crack down on illegal and failing independent schools

Posted: Tue, 12 Feb 2019 13:37

The National Secular Society has welcomed government plans to promote community integration by legislating against unregistered and failing independent schools which were announced in a strategy paper this week.

In its Integrated Communities Action Plan, the government announced its intention to legislate to strengthen the power of England's schools regulator Ofsted to act on unregistered schools. It will provide "up to £3m" in funding to selected local authorities to help them "tackle concerns in out-of-school settings".

It also said it intends to legislate to require independent educational settings attended by children full-time during the school day to register with the Department for Education (DfE).

The action plan is based on responses to the government's Integrated Communities Strategy green paper published last March. The NSS responded to the green paper in June and supported proposals to protect children's rights in home education, unregistered schools and independent schools.

The action plan says the government will consult on proposed changes to the law on unregistered settings later this year.

The NSS has been a leading organisation lobbying education ministers over many years to tackle the growing problem of unregistered faith schools, which often teach restricted curricula and are not inspected under the independent school standards. A large proportion of unregistered schools are faith based.

The Education and Skills Act 2008 makes it a criminal offence to run an unregistered school. However, at least 350 unregistered schools have been set up across Britain according to Ofsted without any proprietors facing prosecution.

Last year, a report from Hackney Council in London said that current legislation around unregistered schools "is at best patchy and at worst contradictory". It said council and other statutory bodies "find it impossible to satisfy themselves that the expected standards of safety and safeguarding are in place".

The action plan also announced legislation "to strengthen the enforcement regime for independent schools that fail to meet the required standards". It will also publish advice on independent school standards and a policy outlining circumstances in which the government would "move to enforcement action".

Many failing independent schools are faith schools. In 2017 it was reported that almost half of independent faith schools had been rated as 'inadequate' or 'requires improvement' since the introduction of new standards in 2014. Seven independent faith schools were issued warning notices in December.

The government said it would continue to support the teaching of British values and support local authorities in tackling concerns in out-of-school educational settings. It also said it would "publish revised guidance on home education", although it did not announce any new legislation in this area.

The NSS has called for a registration scheme to help safeguard the rights of home educated children. The action plan announced increased support for school nurseries for "disadvantaged children".

The NSS expressed caution on plans to work with Dar ul Ulooms (Islamic theological institutes) to "identify barriers" to achieving "higher education accreditation". In its response to the green paper, the NSS highlighted that Dar ul Ulooms are likely to adhere to "fundamentalist theology", and that all Dar ul Ulooms registered in England appear to be for male students only.

The action plan said schools should be "inclusive environments which enable students to mix and build positive relations with those from different backgrounds". But it did not directly address the segregation caused by faith school provision and discriminatory admissions criteria in faith schools.

Instead, it said it has "strengthened expectations" for new free schools to promote integration and will continue to support a "national school linking programme" for "different kinds of schools".

The government also praised faith schools in its summary of consultation responses to the Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, which accompanied the action plan. It said faith schools "play an important part in the school system" and are "some of our highest performing schools".

It did not refer to criticism of state-funded faith schools made by the NSS and other organisations who responded to the consultation.

NSS head of education Alastair Lichten said: "We welcome the rhetoric on education, and many of the proposals reflect the recommendations and concerns we have been raising with the DfE. However we need to see if actions and practice match these good words.

"A truly integrated society, where everyone can succeed regardless of their background, requires a genuine and deep commitment to integrated education. Religious control, segregation and discrimination needs to be addressed and rolled back, not accepted and worked around."

The NSS welcomed other aspects of the action plan, including announcements to "civic and democratic participation" of "marginalised women". This would include challenging "socio-cultural norms which can hold women and girls back" and tackling "social isolation". It also announced plans to tackle the issue of forced marriage.

The action plan also announced plans to "educate and inform" couples of the benefits of civilly registered marriages. It also said it would explore "limited reform to the law on marriage and religious ceremonies."

Megan Manson, campaigns officer at the NSS, said plans to increase awareness about the law regarding marriage were "encouraging", but expressed caution over the use of legislative powers to further regulate religious marriages.

She said: "It is a positive step that the government recognises that there is widespread confusion and ignorance regarding the rights and responsibilities involved in a civil marriage, and is working to tackle this.

"However, the laws themselves concerning marriage may hamper these efforts. The fact that English and Welsh law treat Anglican, Jewish, other religious and non-religious marriages differently has added to the confusion regarding marriage. Attempts to introduce more legal obligations on providers of religious marriage ceremonies may add further unnecessarily complexity, and join religion and state even further in the institution of marriage.

"We need a more secular approach to marriage, in which all couples regardless of their religion or belief background are treated equally and are fully aware of the legal implications of entering this arrangement."

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