“Allowing weddings in a field, in a pub, in a MacDonalds, all for the first time, will do a great deal to remove this artificial and unnecessary barrier to reliable love. Hooray!”
The Law Commission is reviewing the law on weddings and published a consultation paper on 3 September 2020.
They argue that the law is too complex and has not kept up with social, cultural and religious changes. The Marriage Act of 1949 governs weddings in England & Wales, but is rooted in historical laws dating back to 1836.
The main problem is that the law limits where and how couples can get married, and who can marry them. Weddings are limited to certain buildings and can only be civil or religious. This limits choice, raises costs, excludes some non-religious groups, and also means some religious couples can follow their tradition without realising they are not legally married.
The Law Commission proposes a simpler process where all couples must pre-register at a civil register office, but can then conduct their marriage ceremony in any place and manner they choose, provided they have an officially recognised celebrant.
We have long argued – including to the Law Commission – that the state’s only business is in registering and regulating the legal aspect of marriage and should have nothing to do with the ceremony or celebration. We have proposed ‘universal civil marriage’ as in France, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries (though not the US, Canada, Australia or NZ). Couples can then celebrate in whatever way they want.
However the Law Commission rejected this option outright in their initial 2015 scoping paper (p73-74) for what we think are spurious reasons. Nonetheless their proposals for ‘universal pre-registration’ go a long way towards simplifying and streamlining the whole process.
Under their new proposals, the state will still impose its bureaucracy on licensing an army of celebrants. But the happy couple will undoubtedly gain a great deal more choice of how and where to celebrate their marriage and are no longer tied to a limited list of venues.
We think the state is absolutely right to regulate marriage because everybody benefits.
Our research – and a great deal of other research – shows that couples who make the clear formal commitment of marriage in front of friends and family are far more likely to stay together than those who don’t. Children of married and intact families are far less likely to suffer mental health problems.
Reliable love is what everybody wants. Stability builds happiness and social capital. The social and economic costs of family breakdown are well known.
It is also the case that marriage has increasingly become the preserve of the better off. Our research shows that, in the top income quintile, nearly nine out of ten parents with young children are married, compared to just one in four in the bottom quintile.
We have also found that the (perceived) cost of a wedding is one of the biggest reasons couples – and men in particular – don’t marry.
Allowing weddings in a field, in a pub, in a MacDonalds, all for the first time, will do a great deal to remove this artificial and unnecessary barrier to reliable love. Hooray!
Harry Benson, Research Director, Sep 2020
Sunday Express New laws to allow weddings in McDonald’s blasted by Christians ‘trivialising marriage!’