The Government has launched a consultation on outdoor weddings and civil partnerships.
Marrying couples will have greater choice in how they celebrate their big day under government plans to legalise outdoor weddings in England and Wales.
Following temporary legislation introduced in July, allowing outdoor civil wedding and partnership ceremonies for the first time, a recently launched consultation seeks views on making this change permanent.
The consultation will also examine extending legislation to religious weddings so that these can take place outdoors at places of worship for the first time for most faiths, such as in the grounds of a church or chapel. Around 55,000 weddings a year would be affected by this change – in 2017, 96% of these were Christian ceremonies. No religious group would be obliged to provide outdoor ceremonies, and existing protections to safeguard religious freedoms would remain in place.
Prior to last summer’s legislation, civil ceremonies at an approved premise such as a hotel had to take place indoors or otherwise within a permanent structure, such as a bandstand.
Couples can now have the whole ceremony outside in the grounds of such a venue – providing greater flexibility especially during the pandemic when there are important public health considerations to take into account.
Justice Minister Tom Pursglove said:
“A wedding is one of the absolute highlights of a person’s life and it is right that couples should have greater choice in how they celebrate their special day.
Our proposals would afford them that choice whether they choose a civil or religious ceremony, and would mark a huge boost for those planning a wedding over the coming years.
Crucially, this will also support the wedding sector by ensuring venues can continue to safely meet the demand for larger ceremonies.”
George Buchanan, of Hodsock Priory in Nottinghamshire, said:
“We converted an old tennis court into a licensed venue for civil ceremonies in November 2020. The first ceremony was held in June 2021 and it is immediately the most popular choice for our brides as their chosen place on site to say ‘I do’.
Outdoor ceremonies will continue through the winter – the autumn colours are spectacular for this weekend’s weddings. Guests love it as it feels romantic and is COVID safe so I would say it’s a positive experience and asset to our venue.”
The proposed changes in fact reflect medieval weddings, when it was common for ceremonies to take place outside the front of the church. This is why many churches from that period have a projecting porch.
Ministers would like to hear from professionals, religious bodies and couples who have used the current provisions or who would consider using the provisions in the future, in order to understand how they have worked or might work in practice and whether they should remain in force beyond April 2022.
A Law Commission review, due next summer, will separately present options for further marriage reforms to the Government. Things under consideration include:
- how ceremonies could take place in a broader range of locations;
- who can solemnise a marriage;
- how marriage by humanist and other non-religious belief organisations could be incorporated; and
- how provision could be made for the use of independent celebrants.
The consultation will run for six weeks and may be accessed here.