On 20 December 2021, the Government launched a public consultation on outdoor weddings and civil partnerships. The consultation sought views on the Government’s proposals to continue to permit outdoor civil marriages and civil partnerships on approved premises, and to permit outdoor religious marriages in the grounds of places of worship. I am writing to inform Members of the publication of the consultation response on outdoor weddings and civil partnerships and laying of the resulting statutory instrument (SI). The consultation sought views on the Government’s proposals to continue to permit outdoor civil marriages and civil partnerships on approved premises, and to permit outdoor religious marriages in the grounds of places of worship.
Since 1 July 2021, couples have been able to have their civil marriage and civil partnership proceedings in the open air, in the grounds of buildings such as stately homes and hotels which are approved or become approved for these civil ceremonies. Previously, these proceedings could only take place indoors or otherwise within permanently immovable structures. These outdoor ceremonies were made possible because the Government laid a temporary SI putting in place these flexibilities, in order to give couples more choice and flexibility in the setting, and to support the wedding and civil partnership sector. However, that SI has effect only until the end of 5 April 2022. The Government are now laying this further SI so that these outdoor civil marriage and civil partnership proceedings can continue indefinitely, thus continuing to offer increased choice and flexibility.
The Government also proposed to extend the policy of permitting outdoor ceremonies to religious marriages in the grounds of places of worship using a separate legislative reform order. This would provide similar choice and flexibility to couples seeking religious weddings and to the religious bodies that solemnise them. The proposals would enable couples to have a greater choice in relation to the location of their ceremonies, and for approved premises and religious bodies to have more flexibility in the locations for ceremonies, should they choose to offer it. No religious group would be obliged to provide outdoor ceremonies, and existing protections to safeguard religious freedoms would remain in place.
The Government have carefully considered all the responses to the consultation. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of continuing the provision of outdoor civil marriages and civil partnerships: therefore, the Government are now laying this SI so that these proceedings can continue beyond 5 April 2022 indefinitely.
Respondents were also in favour of the proposal to extend the provision of outdoor ceremonies to religious marriages, on a permissive basis. The Government will therefore take these proposals forward via a separate legislative reform order to be brought before Parliament in due course, as this will require a change to primary legislation to implement.
This reform for continued outdoor ceremonies will act as a stepping stone towards later and more comprehensive and durable reform following the Law Commission’s recommendations, should the Government decide to undertake such reform. The full consultation report, including detailed analysis of responses to individual questions and a list of respondents, is available at: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/outdoor-marriages-civil-partnerships/.
The SI has been laid in Parliament today, to come into effect on 6 April therefore ensuring the smooth continued provision of outdoor marriages and civil partnerships beyond the expiry of the previous SI. A copy of the consultation response will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.