Tying the knot in the dome of delight

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The Independent Online
Couples may be able to exchange millennial wedding vows in Peter Mandelson's dome, it was revealed yesterday. But, Fran Abrams reports, buildings licensed for civil weddings must be both dignified and permanent. Will the Greenwich exhibition fit the bill?

There will be surfball games. There will be the chance to scramble inside a huge human body. And now - maybe - there will be nuptials.

The New Millennium Experience Company, in charge of the dome, has confirmed it is thinking of setting aside a part of its building for couples who want a novel place to tie the knot.

Under new rules introduced in 1995, the owners of "seemly" buildings can apply to councils for permission to host weddings. The only question is whether a 1000ft-wide Teflon-coated tent is a suitably sombre setting for something as serious as matrimony.

A spokesman for the NMEC said that it had decided to look into the possibility after it was suggested in a letter from Richard Heller, a Mail on Sunday columnist.

"As a result of his letter we have decided to check out what the situation is for the licensing of non-religious buildings and non-register offices for weddings. But nothing has moved on it yet," he said.

He added that the exhibition's organisers must ensure the correct legal process was followed. Guidance published by the Registrar General show that it is in fact fairly simple.

The owner of a suitable building must simply apply to his or her local authority, leaving time for an inspection and a 21-day grace period to allow objections to be made.

However, the criteria for the type of building that can be used raises more questions. Premises must "observe the dignity of the occasion," the guidance says.

"Suitable premises may include hotels, stately homes, civic buildings and other similarly prestigious premises. This means that marriages will not be able to take place in the open air, in a tent, marquee or any other temporary structure."

So, is a dome with a 25-year lifespan permanent enough for marriage? A spokeswoman for its local authority, the London Borough of Greenwich, thought it probably would be.

"A civil ceremony is something quite serious and we wouldn't want anything frivolous, but if it was a suitable proposal we would look at it. We can't see any problem regarding the temporary nature of the building," she said.

Discussions are continuing on the provision of a religious site within the dome, but this will be separate from any place set aside for secular weddings.

The NMEC's spokesman said that the Lambeth Group, a committee of advisers overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, had said that it would be difficult to provide a church, chapel or temple within the dome. Any such site would need to be multi-faith and there was no precedent for a church which embraced Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Hindu and Sikh religions. Instead, it was likely that a room would be set aside for prayer and quiet reflection by people of all faiths.