Couples will be allowed to marry at home

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The Independent Online

Couples will be free to marry almost anywhere from a windswept mountain top to the comfort of their own homes under proposals for an overhaul of civil weddings announced yesterday.

Couples will be free to marry almost anywhere from a windswept mountain top to the comfort of their own homes under proposals for an overhaul of civil weddings announced yesterday.

The plans for the biggest shake-up in civil marriages in 165 years will allow a bride and bridegroom to tie the knot at a venue of their choice under the authority of an officially sanctioned "celebrant".

A White Paper published by the Office of National Statistics will abolish current requirements for a ceremony in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to be held in a register office, church or licensed venue.

Instead, any location will be allowed as long as it meets basic rules on safety, suitability and access.

More wacky ceremonies, such as those underwater or while skydiving, will still be ruled out on the basis that any objector will not be able to raise a complaint easily.

In a further change, ceremonies will be conducted by a celebrant – a civil registrar or a certified cleric from a recognised faith such as Islam who will be able to declare the marriage legal under British law. Previously only a registrar or a Church of England priest had such powers.

The package, part of reform of the births, deaths and marriages registration system for the United Kingdom excluding Scotland, is being put forward amid widespread concern over a fall in the number of marriages. The 1994 Marriage Act, which allowed weddings at licensed venues such as hotels and country houses, has failed to halt the general decline.

Denis Cobel, a celebrant for the British Humanist Association, which has long campaigned for a widening of civil wedding rules, said: "This is a step in the right direction."

Critics of the proposals accused the Government of trivialising the institution of marriage but the Church of England declared itself "relaxed" at the reforms.