Reform wedding laws

Reform wedding laws

Page 3 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Wedding law in England and Wales is badly out of date.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

NSS backs proposals to modernise NI marriage laws

NSS backs proposals to modernise NI marriage laws

Posted: Thu, 3 Feb 2022 09:15

The National Secular Society has backed plans to enable non-religious 'belief marriages' and crack down on forced marriage in Northern Ireland.

The NSS has responded to a consultation by the NI Department of Finance in support of proposals to include belief marriages in marriage law, and to raise the minimum age at which people can enter a civil marriage or partnership from 16 to 18.

But it warned the proposals do not go far enough to address inequality or the risk of child exploitation.

Belief marriages

Marriage law in NI allows for two different types of marriage – religious and civil. The proposals would allow couples to have their marriage legally solemnised by a celebrant who subscribes to a non-religious philosophy such as humanism.

The NSS backed the proposals as they would bring about "greater equality and fairness".

But it expressed disappointment that the Department of Finance had not used the opportunity to address other inequities in marriage laws.

It said enabling belief marriages would not address the inequalities from restrictions on civil marriages and partnerships that do not apply religious marriages. While religious marriages can take place anywhere, civil marriages and partnerships can only take place in registrars' offices or approved venues.

This "places a considerable limitation on couples wishing to have a civil marriage or partnership", the NSS said.

It said same-sex couples and less wealthy couples were particularly disadvantaged by these restrictions.

It added couples "should not feel forced to identify as 'humanist' or adopt or feign any other nonreligious identity simply to access greater freedom of where to marry", and that allowing civil marriages the same freedom as religion and belief marriages to take place anywhere would resolve the issue.

It said restrictions prohibiting all religious content should be removed, provided the ceremony remains identifiable as a civil ceremony, to allow couples greater freedom in choosing songs, poems and prayers to personalise their weddings.

Removing restrictions on wedding venues and content in civil ceremonies were also among the reforms proposed for wedding laws in England and Wales last year by the Law Commission.

The NSS also said there is "a strong case" for independent officiates to be enabled to conduct legally-binding marriage ceremonies.

Minimum marriage age

The Department of Finance is proposing to raise the minimum age for marriage or civil partnership to 18, in line with recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The law currently allows people aged 16 and 17 to enter a marriage or civil partnership with 'parental consent'.

The NSS supported the proposals, saying that letting individuals aged under 18 marry with parental consent is "inappropriate in a society where children are not considered parental property" and where marriage is considered "a matter, first and foremost, for the two people getting married".

The NSS said the current law increased the risk of forced marriage, particular for young people in insular religious communities. It said LGBT+ people in these communities were at additional risk.

The NSS warned there is a growing problem in the UK of children under 18 entering unregistered religion only 'marriages' and that NI "must tackle this issue if it is to adequately protect children from abuse".

It also said a lack of sex education can contribute to forced marriage, which is why "it is so important for all children and young people in Northern Ireland, especially those within religious communities, to have age-appropriate and objective education about relationships and sex".

While RSE is mandatory in NI schools, the curriculum is a matter for each school to decide based on their ethos.

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "We welcome these proposals to modernise Northern Ireland's marriage laws by enabling humanist and other non-religious belief marriages alongside religious marriages.

"However, the consultation is a missed opportunity to address the glaring inequalities caused by the restrictions imposed on civil ceremonies which don't apply to religious marriages. Simply enabling belief marriages won't make this go away. If NI is serious about marriage equality, it should end the unnecessary restrictions on civil marriages and civil partnerships.

"We also welcome the proposal to raise the legal age for marriage to 18. This is an important step in tackling forced marriage, and should also be adopted in other UK jurisdictions."

The consultation closes on 18 February.

Image: debowscyfoto from Pixabay

NSS backs plans to allow outdoor weddings permanently

NSS backs plans to allow outdoor weddings permanently

Posted: Tue, 18 Jan 2022 09:13

The National Secular Society has welcomed plans to allow all types of weddings to be held outdoors indefinitely.

The government is consulting on plans to extend temporary measures enacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic allowing outdoor civil marriages and civil partnerships.

Under the proposals, outdoor civil ceremonies would be permitted to continue indefinitely, while new laws would also enable places of worship to hold religious weddings outdoors.

Laws in England and Wales only permit weddings to take place indoors at approved premises for civil ceremonies, or places of worship registered for marriage.

The only exception is for Jewish and Quaker weddings, which can be held anywhere.

The proposals would only apply to premises with linked outdoor areas. Venues would still be subject to many requirements in order to register as a premises for weddings.

NSS response

The NSS, which campaigns for greater freedom and equality in marriage law, expressed support for the proposals.

In its response to the consultation, it said the proposals would "significantly increase freedom and fairness for all couples to marry how they want, and where they want – including outdoors".

The NSS said it hoped the proposal would be a "stepping stone" towards adopting broader reforms to wedding law proposed by the Law Commission last January.

Under the commission's proposals, supported by the NSS, restrictions on where weddings can be held would be removed, effectively giving couples of all religions and beliefs the same rights as Jewish and Quaker couples to marry where they wish.

The commission's proposed reforms would mean the legal status of the wedding would be determined by the presiding officiant, not the venue where it is held.

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "Allowing outdoor marriages will be an important step towards greater freedom and fairness for all couples, regardless of their religion or belief.

"However, the restrictive nature of our archaic wedding laws in England and Wales that tie weddings to buildings will continue to reduce opportunities for many, including same-sex couples and couples belonging to minority religion or belief groups. We therefore urge the government to adopt the proposals outlined by the Law Commission to make our wedding laws fit for the 21st century."

The consultation closes next Monday, January 24th. Responses can be submitted online here.

Discuss on Facebook

Image: Ebru Doğru, Pixabay

More information