Reform wedding laws

Reform wedding laws

Page 8 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Wedding law in England and Wales is badly out of date.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

Wedding rings

Just 22% of marriages in England & Wales were religious in 2017

Posted: Tue, 14 Apr 2020 17:12

The proportion of marriages which are conducted as religious ceremonies has hit a historic low in England and Wales, prompting the National Secular Society to call for legal reform.

According to newly-released data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), religious ceremonies accounted for less than a quarter (22%) of all marriages in 2017.

The NSS said the figures were incongruous with the fact that nearly 40,000 places of worship are registered for marriage, as opposed to just 7,500 civil wedding venues.

In 2018 NSS research found it was harder for those seeking non-religious or same-sex weddings to get married than those seeking religious and opposite-sex ceremonies. It was also more expensive to register buildings for civil weddings than for religious ones.

The NSS argues for reform of the marriage laws to separate its religious and civic aspects. The society has suggested that the building where a marriage takes place could have no impact on its legal status.

The ONS figures revealed that there were over 8,000 marriages between same-sex couples in 2017 (3.2% of the total), including civil partnerships which were converted into marriages. Only 0.5% of places of worship were registered for same-sex marriage in 2018.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The main law which governs marriage in England and Wales dates back to 1836, when over 99% of marriages were religious in nature. The law has failed to keep pace with modern Britain in which marriage has become a largely civil affair.

"The latest ONS figures highlight the need for secular reforms to marriage law. All couples – regardless of religion, belief or sexual orientation – should have greater freedom and choice to mark their marriages in ways that are meaningful to them, within a simple and consistent legal framework."

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay.

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Same-sex marriage

Don’t extend exemptions on same-sex marriage in NI, NSS warns

Posted: Thu, 5 Mar 2020 14:29

The National Secular Society has warned the government that allowing providers of wedding services to opt out of serving same-sex couples in Northern Ireland would seriously undermine equality law.

Same-sex marriage has been legally recognised in Northern Ireland since 13 January after the UK parliament backed its legalisation last year.

The government is now consulting on issues such as whether certain religious bodies will be able to opt out of offering same-sex marriages.

Ministers currently propose to add in exceptions to current discrimination law so it is not unlawful for officiants to refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is calling for exemptions to be extended further to include Christian owned businesses such as hoteliers, wedding photographers and florists who do not wish to provide services to same-sex couples.

This call has been echoed by the DUP. The party's spokesperson Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has argued for "protections for people such as civil registrars and others who have a high level of involvement in local marriages and stand to be disproportionately impacted by the change in law".

The NSS has now written to the government to highlight the dangerous impact any additional exemptions would have on UK equality law.

In a letter to the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, the NSS argued that any weakening of discrimination would undermine the equal citizenship of gay and lesbian individuals.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The government needs to look very carefully at this consultation and ensure the legislation it puts in place protects the rights and dignity of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.

"Calls to water-down anti-discrimination laws should be given short shrift. If we start saying civil registrars, or even florists, can refuse to serve same-sex couples, then we will create a damaging hierarchy of rights in society.

"In the name of equality, refusing such demands for a 'conscience exemption' is legitimate, desirable and fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights."

This debate on this issue highlights a deeper issue of the entanglement of religion and state in the legal institution of marriage. The lack of separation has resulted in significant complexity in the laws that govern marriage throughout the UK.

Image by briannad26 from Pixabay.

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