Thank you for contacting me about marriages.
I share your concerns about the current marriage laws and agree that meaningful change needs to take place. You may be interested to know that when the Government held a consultation on this in 2014, the majority of respondents were in favour of changing the law to allow legally valid non-religious belief ceremonies in unrestricted locations.
What is also clear, however, is the importance of not embarking upon piecemeal reform, which may lead to inconsistencies between groups – for example non-religious belief organisations and religious belief organisations. I know that the Government wants to reform marriage ceremonies to make sure that there is a simple, fair and consistent legal framework, so that people can have a wedding that is meaningful to them.
That is why the Government announced in June 2019 that the Law Commission will conduct a fundamental review of the law on how and where people can legally marry in England and Wales. As part of the project, the Law Commission will be considering how a scheme could include weddings conducted by non-religious belief organisations and independent celebrants and where weddings should be able to take place.
The Law Commission is currently preparing a consultation paper with provisional proposals for reform and questions for consultees.
I understand the Government does not have any legislative plans to change the current safeguards. However, I know that a registration official has a duty to stop proceedings if they believe that either party to a marriage does not have the capacity to marry. You may also be interested to know that the Law Commission project into Weddings includes the formalities and safeguarding checks required before a marriage is conducted. I will closely follow this review and scrutinise the Government response to any recommendations made in the final report.
I believe that the requirement for venues to be seemly and dignified should be maintained. However, I do welcome the fact that alongside the Law Commission review, Ministers are exploring the extent to which regulations governing approved premises could be reformed to allow outdoor locations for civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Sally-Ann Hart MP