The legislation surrounding marriage was last modernised in 1836 and some aspects of it, such as the calling of Banns in church date back to the 12 Century. In December 2014 the government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of how and where people can get married. The Commission concluded with A Scoping Paper on the 17 December 2017.

The response for the government was that it did not support a full review of this area of the law at this time.

The Minister of State for Justice, Dominic Raab MP wrote on the 11 September 2017 that “priority was being given to reform and address the increase of Family Law cases currently putting pressure on the justice system”.

Getting married in 2018

The law as it stands is not suitable for our modern multi faith society. Jews and Quakers have been able to marry according to their own rites since the 17th Century, but everybody else has to get married indoors. Some venues get around this issue by celebrating marriages under token roofs such as bandstands or pergolas.

Some couples find themselves undergoing 2 or even 3 ceremonies. The first in a Register Office to comply with the law, and a subsequent or third one to satisfy their consciences or families, a third ceremony may be required when the couple come from different religious backgrounds and an interfaith ceremony is not possible.

What is more concerning is that some couples go through a religious ceremony not realising that it does not constitute a legally binding marriage in England and Wales.

Reforms to marriage laws

Given the previous response of the government it was a surprise when on the 2 February 2018, the government announced the plan to back a private members Bill in the commons to reform the law. The Bill is proposing to allow couples to enter into civil partnerships. These were introduced in 2004 as a step towards legalising same sex marriage. Civil partnerships became less popular when same sex marriage became lawful in March 2014.

Some heterosexual couples have argued that it is unfair that they do not have the choice of the civil partnership. Ministers are planning on publishing a consultation on allowing men and woman to enter into civil partnerships, to determine the effect of the changes that this would make to other areas of the law such as divorce and children settlements.

Predictably, any proposals to change the law relating to marriage meet with opposition, and it remains to be seen whether the government has the appetite for any type of reform, no mater how modest.

Michael Lowry is a partner in the family law team in St Austell.  The Stephens Scown family team are ranked as the best in Devon and Cornwall by Chambers and The Legal 500, the two leading independent legal guides. To contact Michael, please call 01726 74433, email solicitors@stephens-scown.co.uk