Couples may be allowed to marry at home or outdoors in potential shake-up of rules

The Law Commission says the current rules in England and Wales are no longer fit for purpose. (Photo: Shutterstock)The Law Commission says the current rules in England and Wales are no longer fit for purpose. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The Law Commission says the current rules in England and Wales are no longer fit for purpose. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Law Commission has put forward proposals to allow couples in England and Wales to marry outdoors or in family homes.

The Commission believes that the current rules surrounding weddings are "no longer meeting the needs of many couples", forcing people to choose between civil and religious marriages.

It believes that there should be scope for ceremonies reflecting other beliefs, and has proposed beaches, parks, cruise ships and private gardens as potential venues for marriages.

Currently, couples in England and Wales must choose between a religious or a civil ceremony for marriage.

Religious weddings must take place at a registered religious building, and an authorised person like a religious minister must attend the ceremony and register the marriage.

Same-sex couples can only get married in a building which has registered to allow the marriage.

Civil ceremonies have to take place in a registry office or a venue that's been approved by the local council.

Two witnesses must be present, and a registrar must carry out, or be present at the ceremony.

Civil ceremonies can include songs, music or readings, but they can't include hymns or readings from religious scriptures.

Professor Nick Hopkins, family law commissioner at the Law Commission, which reviews legislation, told the BBC that the current rules are not fit for purpose:

"Our proposals would give couples the freedom to choose the wedding venue they want and a ceremony that is meaningful for them. By doing so, we hope to make the laws that govern weddings reflect the wishes and needs of today's society," he said.

The commission believes that England and Wales' regulations are "out of kilter" with the more modern approach to weddings taking place in Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands.

In Scotland, weddings are not restricted by location - meaning some couples have married on uninhabited islands and in ancient castles.

The Marriage (Scotland) Act 2002 also allowed marriages to be conducted by any "authorised celebrants" rather than just a minister of religion or registrar.

A spokesman for the Church of England told the BB it would study and respond to the proposals:

"Our research shows that being married in a place that has meaning is still important to couples and their families," they said.

"The moments of waiting to walk down the aisle, standing at the steps and exchanging timeless vows that can only be said in a church, and turning to walk out of the church as a newly-married couple, are cherished."

The Law Commission proposes that non-religious belief organisations, such as Humanists should be able to conduct legally binding weddings.

In addition, it wants remote weddings to be possible during any future national emergency such as a pandemic.

The commission will consult on the proposals until early December, and aims to get a report out before the end of 2021.